Gap Year Musings

So, we’re winding down to the last few weeks of my son’s Gap year abroad. It has been such a roller coaster ride of emotion and learning, I thought I would share the ride. It’s not one I wanted or planned on taking, but it’s an experience that I am so grateful he was able to have.

I have many friends about to embark on this journey again in August so, hopefully between tissue boxes and ice cream pints you can find a moment to read this …

Packing Up

Anyone who knows me realizes I’m a pretty anally organized person. I plan, I list, I shop, I embark and I do. But, when it came to my son leaving home for a full year, well I procrastinated. I did shop. Probably over-shopped. But then, I worried. Then, I freaked. Then, I worried again. Oh, and I freaked some more. I wasn’t a functional person during this time. I felt a loss and it was real.

And then, after much prodding I finally got to the task of packing. Placing that first item in the suitcase last August, meant it was real. I was taking my baby and placing him into a world that would be all his. Adult choices, adult decisions, adult moments – and ones I didn’t get to witness. This was the hardest part for me. Not being a fly on the wall to watch my baby grow. So, I sucked it up and put his perfectly folded pants, shorts, tees and pajamas all in a row in suitcase. With each item, I felt the anxiety rise. “What if this gets too small?What if he needs more underwear? Will he remember to wash things in hot or cold? Yes, it was embarrassing for sure (thankfully only my son was there to witness the sadness of my motherly moment of mush). Lots of eye rolls and fake reassurance during that time. “Yes, Mom, They have stores in Israel.” Okay, good point.

And then, we were done packing.

The Night After and Then Some

After I blubberingly dropped my son at the gate and picked up the small semblance of dignity I had left in front of other blubbering parents, I moved on. Slowly. R-e-a-l-ly slowly. There was a war going on in Israel and that was already an unsettling and scary feeling. I almost didn’t send him. But, knowing the guilt would have eaten my alive at depriving him of this opportunity, I again sucked it up. It was a really hard transition to only receive texts intermittently explaining where he was going and how he would get there. Again, my anxiety rose. What if he’s the one in the wrong place, at the wrong time. What if he tells me he’s going one place and ends up someplace else? What if, What if. What if. This pathetic pattern of anxious doubt crept deep into my soul. I could barely sleep and function without worrying he was dead in a ditch.

But, about 2 months (yes it took a full 8 weeks or so) I felt that cloud slowly lift. He was doing amazing. Adjusting to traveling around. Making new friends. Seeing new places. Learning so much. I had to get over myself and let him live.

The Communication Gap

Because of the time difference you may want to hear from your child at a certain time of day and realize that will not be possible (and if they are available you may start asking, why are you up at 3 am!). But, Whatsapp has become our family’s best friend. You can talk in real-time and makes keeping in touch with the entire group cohesive and normal. Siblings, parents, grandparents etc can all stay as connected as they want. My only suggestion is don’t become a Whatsapp whore. Give your child some space. If you’re getting one word answers they’re probably not in a chatty mood. (I learned this the hard way- Sorry, G!)

Don’t make his year abroad about you. This was the biggest lesson for me. I wanted to know every detail. I wanted descriptions, pictures. I wanted to be a part of his journey. But, alas. I am not. I am part of whatever he wants to include me in – and there have been many voluntary stories, pictures and details. But, loosen the apron strings and the communication comes all on its own.

Our Visit

The first time you visit your child is kind of strange. You’re on his turf, during his program and you want to tread carefully. It was strange to sort of go by his rules and timetable but, we wanted to be respectful of that. Others we know have still come and dictated (You will join us on our outings!) and that has failed miserably. It’s also super cool to have them show you around. He was proud of his program, his dorm, his friends. It was really amazing to see that and feel like a welcome guest in his world.

He had grown in the few months. I could see an independence building and a newfound way of talking about learning. He had come to respect new ideas, new lecturers. His spirituality had grown exponentially. But, deep down he was still that same person and that was a comfort to me. Even his arguments (and we still argue sometimes – cuz, well, we’re normal) were more founded and mature.  You have to fight the urge to become a blubbering idiot every time he says something that makes you so deliriously proud you don’t know what to do with yourself.

The Drinking Thang 

Okay. This was a hard one and a weird one, just the same. I had never been to Israel for the year. I had heard stories about Ben Yehudah Street (the hangout) but, never witnessed it with my own eyes. So, Thursday night of our visit to Israel I insisted on seeing the ‘scene’. He told me it would be a mistake. “Mom, you’ll literally be the oldest person there. You don’t want go!” I couldn’t understand what the big, freakin’ deal was. But, I should have listened to the boy.

I have never seen so many 18 and 19 year olds in one place. It was like a rave or a club that only older teens get into. I was the oldest person on the street. I also couldn’t pick my jaw up off the floor. So many teens, no matter the religious level, had beers or obviously had beers that evening. Drinking age is 18, I kept telling myself. This is legal. But, I felt like I was witnessing something I shouldn’t be. Like going into the spin the bottle game in your basement. It’s just not done.

Obviously, I now had images of my own child’s drunken stupor on a daily basis. I was enraged and shocked. Is this what I sent my child here to do? What the hell is wrong with this country!? But, once the shock and awe wore off we actually had a very open and real conversation about drinking. He got it. Without my ‘talk’ and without my supervision, my son realized the perils of too much alcohol and why that just isn’t his ‘scene’. There was method to this madness and my child was smart enough on his own not to become a lush. Proud Mama moment. Note to you Moms who are reading this and worrying now. Talk to your child about drinking all you can and want. But, realize it’s real, it’s legal and it’s super easily accessible. Tell them you trust them, tell them you won’t kill them and maybe they will share their experience with alcohol as something to ‘try’ instead of something to ‘hide’. Just a thought.

The Relapse

You come home to your first dinner after the trip and realize you’re still down 1 for the count. It’s sad and depressing that they’re still so far away. But, the good news- bounce back is super quick on this because you remember how happy and mature they’re becoming. Move on. With only a little ice cream…

New Normal

It’s nearly 6 months since I’ve last seen my child. That’s both frighteningly long and maddening at times. I’m dying to hug that guy but, also realizing our New Normal. Visits will be visits, not living under the same roof for a while (forever? not ready to say that just yet!). He’s leaving just a short time later for college (a whole new territory). But, New Normal has taught me the value of space. He needed space to grow and get to know himself and his relationship with the world outside. And, as a parent of other wonderful children, that space allows the others in your family to shine in new light. Each of my girls has a new voice at the table, a new opportunity to feel what it’s like to be ‘the oldest’ as each chick leaves our nest for longer periods of time. And, I am certain that when we reunite with 6 at our table the joy we’ll all feel will be palpable and appreciated, instead of taken for granted.

So, now I can honestly say that the worry of the Gap Year is worth it. The tears are heartfelt and normal because the loss is real. We are losing Old Normal. Changing the way we’ve conducted parenting thus far. You aren’t a part of the every moment, but you can still be a part of the ultimate goal – independent people you’ve had the gift of raising. It isn’t easy and I find myself nostalgic at the oddest of times. But, I am excited to see how our relationship will continue to evolve.

 

 

 

SAHM is a job

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I have been in the same job now for nearly 19 years. Through recessions, upticks in the economy, rainy days and long summers – my job has endured.

Like any interesting job no 2 days are exactly the same. It is a job that I love and am ready to quit at the same time. I have wanted to ask my boss for a bonus, a mental health day, some time off – but, unfortunately I am employed by 4 little (and not-so-little) selves.  Don’t dare ask me what I do all day, for you won’t want the diatribe of answers.

My job is a SAHM. (Stay-at-home-Mom for those not in the ‘know’).

I am sure by now, some other SAHM have read and shared the dad’s blog to end all blogs where he puts a price on a his wife’s value. I read it and applauded in my head, but this blog was no news to me. My husband and I have argued for some time over whether what I do is actually a job versus a ‘life choice’. He, afraid to insult me, always thought it was nicer to say ‘life choice’ to stay home with my kids. I, however, insist that this is a real job – one that is constantly changing and one that I am both proud of and ready to scream over, depending on the day.

Why is it so important for me that this gig is a ‘real job’? Well, I do have another gig. I am a writer. I write blogs, content for websites and pieces for a local magazine. That gig pays. Not tremendously, but it does. This work is more of a hobby, a passion, a brain challenge that I enjoy. But, my life’s work – my proudest work – is in helping my family grow and sustain itself.

No, groceries and laundry are not glorious. No, chauffeuring my kids from school to art class isn’t exciting or even life-changing. However, this SAHM job also affords me the opportunity to both impact and be impacted by 4 of the most fabulous people I’ve ever met. This job allows me the opportunity to speak to my partner about rich topics that affect lives, the economy, the future, the real estate market, and our community. No other job on the planet gives you all of that and more.

Being a SAHM is a blessing. It’s not something that every mother gets the opportunity to do or even to enjoy. I have friends who insist they couldn’t find value in doing it all day. I have other friends who insist that staying on their career path is their goal in addition to mothering. I do not judge. I do not begrudge anyone from following their life’s work or their passions. I just know that for me – just me – this is what I was put on Earth to do and do well.

I see that my job description is once again changing. Next fall, my youngest will be in school until nearly 4 pm. “What will you do all day!” I hear from others in my boat. A common freak attack we SAHMs have right about every August. (who’s with me?!)

Well, what will I do? I will grow my writing business focusing on the parts of it I love best and continue to make money while doing something I enjoy. I will nurture my passions and follow up on some lost threads I left dangling when I was too busy climbing up the ladder of SAHM with babies. And, in my new role my hours will change, not disappear.  I will continue to do projects that motivate me. I will get together with friends and reconnect after all the time we’ve spent hibernating in our houses with children. I will experience what days are like filled with empty possibilities and be ready to take a 1 am phone call from a teen abroad or answer a 3 am moan and groan from an ill middle schooler. My new hours will begin at 4 pm. I will continue to be available for school trips, sick days, phone calls from school and vacations. I will be present with my children when they talk (or text), instead of preoccupied with lists or wound up toddlers running amuck in my house. I will have time to provide nice, nutritious meals – those ones that I always look at and say I’ll make later in life. Now, is later in life.

Yes, my job is changing. I will be delivering my oldest to a dorm room this fall, instead of the steps of the first day of school. I will kiss his cheek and remind him about healthy food choices, watch him roll his eyes at me and beam with excitement. I will set my soon-t0-be-junior in high school on a path for college choices and dreaming big as she learns to drive a car, instead of waving to her on the school bus. I will watch my middle schooler braid her own hair, devise her own style and make her own sandwiches instead of me doing those things for her. And I will watch my baby sit at her first desk, get her first prayer book and continue to watch her learn and grow all over again.

These parts of my job – developing free-thinkers, do-it-yourselfers, chefs, drivers, motivators and contributors are the absolute best parts of my life. These are moments no other job can provide. These are my bonuses. My mental health days. My time-off. I have earned these hours to reflect, to write, to think and to be. As CEO/SAHM of this family – It’s time to reap the rewards of all the hard work.

 

 

 

 

5 Rules to Putting the Me back in Mommy

I was in a stinkeroo mood this week. Lots on my to-do list, many obligations coming up in the next few months and I just felt horrified when I looked out my window yesterday morning and saw snow. Lots of snow. Yes, snow on the very first week of spring.

I felt defeated. No way out of my funk without at least some sunshine. I took it out on those around me, crankiness taking over. My husband took it in stride, keeping his space and then trying to help flip the switch to Happy. My children took the cue that perhaps it was time to leave mommy alone (nothing is worse than the wrath of a cranky mother) and did their own thing .And, there I was for days in my funk trudging along. 

So, this morning, I did something about it. I took a bath. A long leisurely, bubbly and candlelit bath, in a last-ditch effort to kick the mood. As I lay in the suds soaking, my mind wandered to my to-do list. “Just breathe” I told myself. And, in 30 minutes of phones ringing and unanswered, shopping lists and articles swirling in my head, dings on my cellphone going ignored, I finally started to feel the black cloud lifting.

I realized that it had been many days since I had spent time on me. Breaking my cardinal rule of finding the Me in Mommy, I had forgotten about myself and it showed. I shared this with a friend this mooring who said something shocking!

She can’t ever figure out what to do with her Me Time, so she doesn’t take it. What?!?!?! I told her this was just unacceptable. She shared that she’s not into nails or massages and Me Time just felt too stressful.

So, here I offer you 5 Simple Rules to Me Time. Rules that are meant to guide you to the bliss of a happier you.

Rule #1 No Kids, No Spouse – Any activity that is done without children is one that is faster, simpler and best of all – alone. But, the spouse? Why can’t he come? Isn’t Date Night, Me Time? Nope! Me Time involves the focus being on you. Date night means the focus is on the marriage. Marriage is an entity that needs it’s own nurturing, but this isn’t the time or place for that. So Rule #1, must be done alone.

Rule #2 Anything and I mean Anything that makes you go Ahhhh. If it makes your shoulders drop their stress, it counts. It could be working out (although for me, that’s most definitely not Me Time), it could be reading a book, it could be listening to music in the tub, getting your nails done, walking the mall, meditating, writing, meeting a friend for lunch (although this needs to be a friend that you feel good after being around, not someone who stressed you out!), yoga, tai chi, dancing around the living room in your underwear when no one’s home. If you leave the activity happier it was most definitely well done Me Time.

Rule #3 If you haven’t had it in more than 30 days, you must have it now. Me Time is your sustenance. Like food and water, sex and mental stimulation, vitamins and minerals, without it you cannot maintain solid, grounded, healthy relationships. You cannot give to your children, your spouse, your friends if you have not first given to yourself. As the saying goes – put on your oxygen mask first and then, the person sitting next to you.

Rule #4 No Time, No excuseThere is always time to do things that are important to you. I know you’re busy. I know you’ve got a list a mile long and I also know you do have time for Me Time. Much like parent-teacher conferences, meetings, holidays and dinner prep – put it on the calendar so you show up for yourself. I used to practice writing down a Me Time on the calendar once a month. Then, it became sort of ingrained and I just naturally plugged it in. Now, with my recent cranky episode, I think it’s time to prioritize it again.  Schedule a Me Time now!

Rule #5 You’re Worth It Remove the guilt, the negative associations and the stuff that gets in your way of Me Time. You are worth the investment. You are worth the time. You are worth the extra day the dishes may crust over in the sink. Be the best Mom you can be by modeling self care and self worth.

Stop. Drop. And, plug back into what you need most right at this moment. Put the Me back in Mommy. It will be the best thing you’ve done all month.

You’re welcome.

Have a great day – even with the snow.

5 Reasons Passover is My Favorite Holiday

 

As we’re all scrubbing, listing, shopping and for some, packing, I remind myself that Passover is actually one of my favorite holidays. For those who cannot see the rainbow in the cloud of chaos and money spending – here’s a gentle reminder of 5 reasons Passover is my favorite holiday.

Rejiggering Inevitably it happens. I begin a simple cleaning of a space and next thing I know, I am moving a desk here, a rug there, pushing a bed across a room. Passover cleaning turns into a rejiggering of all my spaces. It’s sort of a literal and figurative refocusing. I toss old clothing, go through that shelf of old books and begin attacking that pile of papers I’ve been holding off touching. Yes, I am aware this is not the point of Passover cleaning. I don’t even recommend it to my friends. But, for me it’s cathartic and leads right to #2 below.

Payoff  There is something about Passover that always makes me feel the true meaning of ‘job well done’. When it comes to cleaning and cooking, I am often lazy. I’ll happily grab a shortcut. If I’m going to have to do hard manual labor well, there has to be a payoff – and it better be a good one. When I sit down at the Seder and look around my table I always end up so grateful for the gifts we have. I am surrounded by family, good food and a lengthy (sometimes too lengthy!) amount of tradition that allows me the chance to feel fulfillment in all those weeks of organizing hard work. I have prepped weeks for this and there is something in that moment at the first seder that I feel full – emotionally and spiritually. The key for me not to feel angry or overwhelmed is really in a learned mind trick.  I typically aim to be ready the day prior to the actual holiday. If I accomplish this goal that means the day of, I can just focus on a little jaunt out with my daughters to do our nails, setting up the table and sort of relaxing. There have been some years I did not accomplish the day before, and that has led me to a much more stressful and unhappy beginning to my favorite holiday.

Tradition Judaism is chock-full of every day traditions. But, Passover is the ultimate in hands-on. A tangible holiday that revolves around the children when so many revolve around shooing or hushing the children. I love to find ways to incorporate the fun in my fun-ctional Passover. As it is all about the children, I find myself being excited again as well. Maybe its the former teacher in me, perhaps its the Mommy in me or it could also be the dormant laziness I sometimes participate in other holidays – but, Passover revives me as a Jewish person. It’s out loud conversation about where we came from and how we got here. A time where talking about our history and connection to one another is discussed, analyzed and even sang about. A holiday where we are focused on enjoyment and freedom rather than the ‘do not dos’ and the ‘must not touch’.

Food No good holiday comes without a massive amount of food consumption. Like I said, I’m lazy when it comes to food and I love shortcuts. What shorter cut is there than deleting half of the ingredients I normally use! Creating simpler meals, a stronger focus on the green vegetables and the proteins, I find I actually eat healthier and happier on Pesach (minus my must-do matzo brie). I minimize my matzo intake (hello, stomach aches we not-so-lovingly call “Matzo babies”). It’s the one holiday throughout the year I tend to lose weight, rather than gain.

Family Although this will be our first Passover without our oldest, as he’s staying abroad, I am reminded of many years of all of us together as a family when I dig into our Passover boxes. There is something emotional about that moment I uncover those bins and find memories literally falling all over me. Projects each of my children made, the dozens of Matzo covers and cups of Elijah that come pouring out of their spots. Pages and pages of coloring, half-glued matzos hanging on by a thread from their construction paper. Each one a treasure only visited for a few days a year. The amassed Passover dishes and knick knacks I have collected and added to each year, remembering the fear of that first Passover I made myself. Even those memories of Passover as a child fighting over a treasured fork and knife. This is the reason, the true reason I love it. My family memories that are growing each year. Even if all of us cannot be together, there will still be remnants of them at our table and in my heart, forever.

So while Purim or Succot (and if you ask my kids, I’m sure it’s Chanukah) might be your #1, Passover for me is the ultimate. Bring on the Matzo brie!

 

Are You in My Boat?

I have a secret confession to make.

I am still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.

I thought I had it all figured out in 1995. A mom. That is my life’s destiny. A wonderful, giving, nurturing full-time Mom. But, then in 1998, we kinda needed some cash too and that whole plan went awry. I was suddenly a Working Mom, a whole mother beast entirely. Trying to fit in 2 worlds but, not giving my all in either. I did not like being a working Mom, I wanted to devote my time to my kids entirely and get the chance to watch them grow, sick days and all.

So, after much deliberation and cut backs – I was back home in my nest surrounded by my little chicks.

And then, a funny thing happened. When my little ones started going to school full-time I realized I no longer needed to be home with just my laundry and dishes. I needed more stimulation and my brain felt smooshy. I decided to follow a long-time passion and write. I had always written for myself and loved that feeling of accomplishment. That feeling of peeking inside your own soul and seeing what lay beneath. That story that lay under it all. I felt I was ready to share that with the world. So, I started a blog to test the waters.

Blogs are fun, but they don’t make money. So, I took my skill and I began a freelance business providing all sorts of fodder for my words. My brain felt full of inspiration while my bank account got little bumps of joy. I was happy. Until, I wasn’t.

I realized that in writing for others I was not touching souls, uncovering layers and delving into the deep. I was writing websites, and creating Top 5 lists and getting paid, but it felt like – work.  It’s strange because you spend your entire life wishing and wanting and dreaming and suddenly you’re there and it’s like ‘meh’. So, now what?

I am a firm believer that if you love what you do it will never feel like real work. I mean, of course some days will, I get that. But, I want to like what I do, love getting a bonus of being paid for work I am proud of.

I discussed this with my Mom Friends and my husband (my best friend) and have discovered I am not alone. I am in a boat so full of people who ‘Don’t Know What To Do Next’ I wonder if anyone really knows. Does life ever reveal the answers?

Last week, I bought an antique piece of furniture. I got a fantastic steal on a corner unit for my dining room I had always dreamed of having. Usually far too expensive, I knew I’d never actually own one. But, as I was walking along a street I saw a sign “Antique Treasures” – it called my name. I walked in and touched my hand to the blue and white french plates, admired the old, dirty brooches someone’s love had gifted and lifted a few old kitchen items to feel their history. I imagined women with thick, european arms rolling out dough for bread with the pins or grating potatoes on the tattered, rusty grater. I smiled at the stories each of these pieces held. And then, I saw it. Holding antique green dishes was my destined corner hutch. My heart literally jumped. Full of just the right hint of rustic, mixed with modern, clean lines my turn of the century farmhouse corner piece called my name. When I asked the price, I expected to be horrified, but surprisingly it was quite affordable. I had to have it.

I became obsessed with this piece as I thought about it at home. It made no sense. Why was I obsessing over a piece of furniture I didn’t need? I already had a dining room hutch that was perfectly good and fine. But, I had to have it. I convinced my husband, with some obvious “I don’t get women” reaction from him and 3 days later, my beauty arrived.

There is something in the story of furniture that excites me. The time that my daughter threw up on our brown sofa and we had to search for a cleaner willing to deal with bodily fluids. Or, the time we purchased our first piece of furniture for our home, a sturdy coffee table with huge baskets that held toys, then games and now books. The wooden globe I purchased for our 10th anniversary that they called would arrive a day late, so I ran out to get another globe (I wanted to give him ‘the world’, corny, I know!) only to pull up to the package of the first globe on my doorstep. Now we have two worlds. The chip on the table when my littles one bumped her head or the little sticker that lay glued to the bed in my son’s room reminding me he was once a little boy.

So, maybe now, my passion is furniture. Can furniture even be a passion? Who knows? Maybe it’s still stories. Maybe it’s yet to be written. I realize I am having my mid-life crisis, I already had my mid-wife crisis so I guess this is what’s next. Anyone else in my boat?

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