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?

Parents of Seniors in High School, Do You Get It Now?

Image Source : Huffington Post

Last year I wrote a piece for my blog on Chicago Parent discussing the Been There, Done That Fairy Mom-mother. Essentially, being a young mother has enabled me to experience everything first, before my friends, without any go-to mom to glean sage advice. I just had a few teary-eyed calls this week that reminded me of this article and made me wish for that fairy all over again.

My friends, now parents of seniors in high school, are experiencing the beginning of the grieving process as they watch their oldest get ready to leave the nest. By far one of the hardest years of my life, I can honestly say it does get better. But, it isn’t easy to go through. And, you are going to need your friends. And, tissues. Lots of tissues.

Last year, when I was stuck in the muck of it I just wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Then, I cried. Then, I wrote some more. I wrote so much he asked me to please stop writing about him so much.

So, I did.

If only I had someone to go to, to ask if it would get better, to assure me that my child’s really going to be okay – more than okay. And, that yes, I could eventually walk around without feeling like my right arm had been cut off.

So, here I am my Senior Parent friends, to tell you: Not only will you get through this year, and the next, you and your oldest will thrive. It is an amazing moment when you look at your child and realize – they are their own person and that person is pretty fantastic.

Perhaps because of you, perhaps despite you.

You overthink it, you come up with every anxious scenario how they will be absolutely be lost without you there to guide them. But, then you realize, in time, and with those darn tissues, that they can guide themselves pretty well and know how to get in touch if/when they can’t.

You insist you know their path best, you have it all mapped out in your head. The school abroad or the college, the majors, the lifestyle, the food plan. But, then they eat what they want, go where they go and do what they do:

Since last year I did in fact locate a few Been There, Done That Moms and here’s what we’ve put together to share. We cannot say we successfully did all of these, but wish at the time that we had this list in advance:

Express your vision, then hear theirs One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to listen. Let them feel heard because this process is damn hard. Take the time to express what you want for their future, where you see them and how they can get there. That is valuable information. Then, shut up and listen to how they see their own. This is even more valuable information.

There will be loud discussions – Part of leaving home is prepping a long time for that big day of goodbye. It’s a lot of emotions and a heck of a lot of decisions to make in a short period of time. They’re stressed, you’re stressed. So, talk and try not to let it escalate too much – but, be understanding if and when (oh, it will) gets loud.

Push and they will push back harder – You want one thing, they want another. It’s totally normal in the process. If you push one school, or insist on something because “I’m paying” the chances of them wanting that are now greatly reduced just to piss you off. Ultimately, they have to go to class, earn the grades and have a future. If it’s all controlled by you – it will not go well.

Let this be their future, not yours – Some moms shared with me that they unknowingly tried to live out their dreams through their children. This seemed more prevalent in those I talked to with moms and daughters, but I have no hard evidence of that. This is not the time to live out your dreams, its time to let the kids figure out what they want.

Deny, Deny, Deny My go-to coping mechanism of choice was to live in the lovely land of denial. But, then it does really happen. They really leave. And it seriously sucks. But, then they will come back to visit or oddly you go to visit them (and feed them).

Don’t freak when they make a mistake I did this. Whoops. It was bad. I expected perfection and what I got was human. Nothing, short of life and death, is that bad. Let them F it up so they can learn and grow and figure it out for themselves.

Just like we had to. 

There is a mean part of parenting no one tells you at the beginning when they hand you that bundle of smooshy cuteness. That is that one day you will be totally caught off-guard, by a surprise so big, so great and overwhelming nothing (not even ice cream and oh, I tried) can make it better. Until, suddenly you just move forward organically into the next stage.

Adultish (?) parenting.

I am still learning exactly what this next part of parenting means when I still pay for bills, and dole out spending money, but we’re learning to navigate the territory. Part coach, part friend, part parent, part nothing but a text at times and part in awe of what G-d let me have a hand in making – it’s weird, awesome and terrifying all at the same time.

No, I do not have my been there, done that Mom to guide me around the ropes of all of this. But, I hope I’m doing okay so far…So saddle up Senior Moms, and get ready for the ride of a lifetime.

What Friday Night Lights Can Remind You About Marriage

Okay, I admit it. I am sorta in love with a football show. This anti-sports gal who once fought vehemently to win back her Sunday or Monday Nights now sits and discusses QB1s and plays (well, I’m still in a  learning stage). My husband spent years trying to get me into football. Begged, pleaded, prodded, poked and then, gave up.  It was a moot point. All I ever heard was “blah, blah, yardage, scrimmage”, yet here I am now eating wings, sipping Corona and watching a bit of the Patriots. It’s all because of Friday Night Lights, and I think now, I get it.

Yes, the people on the show are good looking. Yes, I could be some of their mothers, but I digress… Yes, the story lines are fun and interesting. But, my favorite part of the show is the married couple Tammy & Coach Taylor. They have one of the most ideal and real marriages I’ve seen on television. Tammy supports her coach husband in his role and he in turn, supports her back. They both work hard, raise the kids and show the value of a healthy marriage. They fight over lack of sex after baby, parenting teens, money issues and all the things most marriages do. But, what I adore about this couple (and yes, I know it’s all television – but as a writer, I get the value in good, realistic writing) is how she isn’t bit in the butt for supporting her husband and his career. It’s sort of old-school – make your man feel good about himself, meets new school – woman don’t take no crap from no one.

The messages all around me have always been  First Kids, Then Husband. I dubbed it The Man Can Make His Own Damn Lunch. My mom used to make my dad lunch every day. I saw this and literally ever fiber of my 80s feminist mind wanted to puke (sorry, Mom). I made a personal vow that when I got married my husband would make his own damn lunch!

And, so he did. Brown bag and all.

But, I think early on that translated to me doing my thing, him doing his thing and then us doing our thing. It never even occurred to me that I could or would try out ‘his’ things or vice versa! But, over 19 years of marriage I’ve been trying out some of his interests and I actually enjoy them. Well, some of them. And, he has also tried some of my interests. Not because I asked or he asked, but just because it felt right.

A good marriage is a supportive and loving partnership. A great marriage consists of respecting your partner enough to try and get to know him even better. To listen, to snuggle up during his team game. To sometimes make him a brown bag lunch…

 

 

 

Peace Starts in the Kitchen

 

I recall our good friend talking to my husband and me, years ago, about the concept of ‘Shalom Bayit’ (creating calm & peace in the home). As he walks out to Synagogue on the first night of Sabbath or a holiday he waves at his wife covered in food stains and flour while screaming at their over-screen-timed kids and says, “Shalom Bayit”.

Ever since that half-truth, I have dedicated myself to trying to create a home where true calm and peace exists – even in the kitchen.

When I first became a wife and mother the thought of holidays and hosting scared the crap out of me. I would take my cooking plan, break it down into a shopping list that was combed over three times, shop, stock and do a 1-day cook-a-thon to offer my guests and my family the freshest of food. I had not learned how to bake ahead and freeze, how to organize prior and I did not even have the extra space necessary to do so anyway. I would call people to invite them, pit in stomach, hoping that they would shoot me down and I’d get “credit” for the invite. But, alas several accepted. And so, the chaos would begin.

This sort of lifestyle of standing, cooking, baking, stirring, chopping, kneading and then collapsing consumed my holidays and exhausted me as I sat at our table. Coordinating food that went well, ensuring I had all the cooking or baking ingredients prior (which I never did) and that my guests ‘matched up’ with one another. I was both catering company and full-time mother, none of which I felt I was doing well.

Half asleep that first night and too tired to enjoy the myriad of songs and projects my children made – I would blearily clear the table, wash my dishes and fall into bed. Finally, I would wake up from my cooking stupor around Day 2 or 3 of a holiday – far too full and just when everyone else was petering out.

Much as a metaphor for my life, I have learned the art of planning ahead to enjoy the moments at hand. I have also learned to R-E-L-A-X.

Company doesn’t have to match, exactly. Menus can be yummy and healthy, but not necessarily fancy.

Now, I allow my plan to consume me in small, manageable bits per day leading up to the holiday. I have yearly Excel spreadsheets that I add or subtract to on a whim. Shopping lists are printable and easy to access. I have been blessed with a larger fridge and freezer that can hold premade meals, I am no longer embarrassed to serve my guests. I do not always make impressive desserts that take hours of prep so I can hear those beloved words “I can’t believe you made this!” I no longer need those accolades to ensure a good meal was had by all -except an exhausted me.

Validation of a job well done comes from my sitting at the table and taking in my family, my friends and my guests.

I laugh, out loud, when I read articles in magazines or watch tv cooking shows where they talk about hosting “dinner parties” and the stress that comes with that. We Jewish women have been hosting dinner parties, lunches and brunches for days at a time, with panache, class and wonderful food since the dawn of a refrigerator. It’s for many a no-brainer and, yet for many still a huge source of stress and exhaustion.

I implore my fellow Domesticated Goddesses to stop, drop and rest. There is no point to impressing your guests if you are too tired to enjoy the fruits of your own labor.

Raise your hand if you went all day cooking without feeding yourself a thing. Raise your hand if you ignored your children because you were in the kitchen all day prior to a holiday. Raise your hand if you barely had time to hop in a hot shower last holiday. We’re all guilty and we’re all tired. This cannot be what was meant to be for a holiday.

Holidays are a beautiful, special and delicious time – but, it’s not supposed to be all about the food. It can’t be all about the food. If you don’t have the luxurious extra fridge or freezer, pare down the menu. Love the people at your table enough to spend time with them. Most of all, love yourself enough to remember the point of it all…

The Guilt of Gratitude

About a year or two ago, I read a book called, The Happiness Project. I am sure you’ve seen or heard the hype surrounding this larger-than-life experiment in gratitude. At first, gratitude came easily to author Gretchen Rubin, a sarcastic and often silly women looking for the more in life we all seek. Then, as gratitude’s time-tested experiments and real-world crap collided, things became more desperate and difficult for Gretchen. And, as in all books with a happy ending, she discovers sticking with gratitude in a multitude of ways really does bolster your happiness quotient.

For me, this book was just meh. Gretchen seemed trite, often times rude in her quest for trying out different sides of gratitude. But, in general I believed in her message – taking time to find the good and being grateful for it will lead to an overhaul in your general view on life. Since reading that book and really since Oprah coined her phrase ‘gratitude journal’ years ago, I’ve often tried to incorporate more thankfulness into my life.

When times were bad and paychecks lean, gratitude for loves in my life got me through. When I suffered loss or pain, focusing on my multitude of gifts (like coffee) and amazing children cheered me up. And then, as all good things were going great – gratitude somehow, someway transitioned into another beast altogether- guilt.

I am not certain when this happened or why. But, suddenly we finally had a savings account for the first time in our lives, our family was growing up and sleeping through the night (!), my business was booming and it finally seemed like everything was in synch. I was overwhelmed with so much gratitude that I looked around at others less fortunate and felt tremendous and utter shame.

Why should I deserve so much happiness? What have I done to deserve a great home, healthy kids and a giving husband? Was I any better than others dealing with loss, divorce or sick children? Of course, the answer – a resounding no – I was no more deserving and no better than anyone else. I was just luckier in the draw in that particular part of my life.

I think back to a time when I was young. I went to an elementary school in an insular and strict private school environment that taught the mantra ‘You will get what you deserve’. I grew up believing that breaking any rule would bring an onslaught of hellish fire and I may be struck by lightening at any moment. Skip a class? You will get expelled. Eat on a minor fast day? Your stomach will surely hurl itself into oblivion. This led to an onslaught of fear and loathing both for my little world at school and contributed to my heightened anxiety as I was growing up. I never wanted to do anything “wrong” (by whichever standards I was following) or make a mistake for fear of what may lay in wait.

In my mind it was simple –I f you were good, good things happen to you – if you are not good, well watch out…

But, as I became an adult and saw the world around me make plenty of good or bad choices the ultimate question came to the forefront – Why do bad things happen to the good people? It made no sense.

Then, I read another book, this one much more meaningful to me than the Happiness Project – The Garden of Emunah (Belief) by Rabbi Shalom Arush.

This book, while also at times trite and flowery, became an unbelievable reminder that if you sort of ‘go with the flow’ of life you can’t feel slighted, angry, sad or depressed. It’s just life. Not better than someone else’s, not worse. It’s yours and yours alone. It has really helped my perspective in realizing that its a waste of time to feel guilty for the gifts of my life. I shouldn’t walk around apologizing that I have health or happiness. I also shouldn’t feel angry when it doesn’t go ‘my way’ because truly it is going my way, I just don’t realize it at the time. It’s just the Plan.

I make the choices that contribute to the path my life of course, but ultimately health, happiness and love are all very changeable and in an instant. I am trying hard to focus less on being thankful and more on thanking those around me and of course, the Guy Upstairs. I am working hard on recognizing the Plan versus feeling that I somehow did something intrinsically amazing or horrific to get there. It’s my Plan and I’m sticking to it.

Happy New Year, all. May We All Be Inscribed in The Book of ‘Good Plans’ Until 120.

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