When I was four years old, I opened my older brother’s reading book and read the words: Look! Look! Immediately I knew that this was the world where I belonged, the world of words. Soon enough, I learned that I could read to transport myself to other places, places where a little girl growing up in West Warwick, Rhode Island, never imagined she would go-the heart of Africa, the rainy streets of London, the prairie or tropical islands. Eventually, my love for words led me to want to write my own stories. For years, I wrote stories about a little girl coming home from school and discovering that her grandmother had vanished. And the little girl’s life got so much better. It should come as no surprise that I lived with my grandmother, Mama Rose, an Italian immigrant whose broken English, smells of garlic and onions, and proclivity for cooking our pet rabbits and the innards of animals caused me great embarrassment. But writing fiction helped me to understand how I felt and why I felt that way. After writing a disappearing grandmother story, Mama Rose seemed eccentric and interesting rather than the source of all of my problems. After my five year old Grace died suddenly of a virulent form of strep in 2002, I lost the ability to read and write. Sure, I could make out words and sentences, but their meaning and their power was gone for me. I write to makes sense of the world around me, but suddenly, in the aftermath of Grace’s death, nothing made sense. A friend gave me a beautiful white leather notebook, which I dutifully carried with me everywhere in those dark months. As someone who had made her living from words for over fifteen years, it was almost painful to write without editing or care; rather, I just poured whatever I felt onto the page. That little book is tucked away now. But for a time it was my constant companion, a trove of bad writing, raw emotion, and heartache. Over the nine years since Grace died, the internet has blossomed and blogs have popped up at an astounding rate. How many get read I cannot say. But when I come across one written by a grieving mother, or a parent dealing with bad news, or someone who just wants to put down her thoughts about her life as a mom, I think about that little white notebook of mine. I think about my own blog, where when I feel the pressing waves of grief washing over me, or when I puzzle over life in all its messy glory I can write unhindered and without criticism. There is power, I tell you, in words. Power for all of us to say: Look! Look!
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Oprah - the beautiful, fabulous, philanthropic Oprah – did me dirty.
You know those aha moments Oprah has? The phrase actually made it into the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2012. By definition, aha moments are: moments of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension.
Oprah’s aha moments are sexy. Sometimes even R-rated! It begins with her sitting on her cushy over sized chair. Hair and makeup perfect. Manolos high as the sky. Lincoln Park After Dark nail polish gleaming as if its tacky to the touch. There she sits, engrossed in her guest, like it’s a private conversation and her viewers are simply voyeurs. As her guest finishes speaking, you see it coming. A look of sheer satisfaction appears on her face.
Yes! Yes! Oh! Right there! I’m about to… yes… YES! She blurts out excitedly – Ahhhaa! I just had an AHA moment!
Oprah’s aha moments come at us fast and forceful. She takes her guest’s complex theoretical idea and breaks it down into a simple, actionable solution. Somewhere in between hearing her guest speak and having her revelation, she manages to polish her aha moment so it glows as bright as her million-dollar baubles. Then she hands it to us to keep in our back pocket and gaze at whenever we need a spark of inspiration.
Here’s the real deal on aha moments: Ain’t nobody but Oprah havin’ sexy ahas.
Last week, I had an aha moment. A moment of clarity, a breakthrough. A realization. The answer to an issue that forever affected me. Unconsciously, I tried stuffing it deep down, hoping to suffocate it. Try as I might, it wouldn’t die. It persisted, affecting me on multiple levels.
Do you know what that aha moment looked like? It looked like this: Anger. Resentment. Provocation. Desperation. Expletives. Tears. Denial. Blame. Excuses. A pit in my stomach. An awakening. Accountability. Relief. Exhaustion. An internal vow to do something with this knowledge.
That, my friends, is a real woman’s aha. No disrespect, Ms. Oprah.
Most of it was super ugly. All of it was draining. Exhaustion to the point where even the following day I felt like I had a killer hangover. I don’t drink. I was mentally burnt out. That being said, I’m eternally grateful for my aha moment. It was an answer to a huge boulder I couldn’t scale. The aha provided insight into my thought processes, the mental crap that came up whenever said issue was in question.
It was an answer, not a full-fledged solution.
If I’m lost in a dark forest, my aha moment is akin to finding a flashlight. With the flashlight, I can see my map! My map isn’t the solution, though. I need to use it in conjunction with my other tools, notably my brain and my feet. An aha moment is powerful self-insight. It’s up to you to do something with it. It’s scoring a new tool to use whenever you feel the need.
When it comes down to it, an ugly aha is just as big of a breakthrough as a sexy aha. Embrace it in all it’s ugliness, knowing full well that the eternal enlightenment is worth the temporary pain.
For the first time in I don’t know how long, I was home alone last night. It was just an hour – between my husband’s departure for a meeting and picking up my youngest at soccer practice – but it was a sweet 60 minutes that only other busy mothers can truly understand and appreciate.
Since remarrying five years ago, I haven’t had many of these moments. There’s always someone around – the husband or one of the teenagers – or I there’s the impending threat of their arrival, especially the teenager with the job and wheels who pops in at completely random times.
So, I yearn for moments of quiet, when I can actually play my own music, lounge on the couch with a snack that no one wants a piece of, or curl up with a book without constant demands and questions.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when my two children were younger and I was a single parent that just putting them to bed left me feeling alone in the house. I was really strict about them getting to bed early to get enough sleep, and they were pretty compliant. In five or 10 minutes, there’d be silence in the house and I was free to frolic (usually that meant reading uninterrupted).
In that way that we’re never quite satisfied with our current situation, I was often restless and lonely, when their slumber left me alone with worries about finances, my aging car or the future. When they spent weeks in the summer visiting their father, it took me days to actually not dread going home to a silent environment. Only belting out my favorite songs into my hairbrush while the stereo pulsed at top volume seemed to ease the ache.
Now, life with teenagers and a husband is happy but always noisy, always hectic and always co-occupied. Not even a trip to the bathroom is sacred. When they were little, the kids would open the door and just wait for me to finish. Now, they talk to me through the door. Apparently, everything requires immediate attention, even if you’re doing your business.
Sixty minutes was mine last night. I turned on my music briefly, feeling too old to break out the hairbrush karaoke. I picked up my book and put it down again. I didn’t want a snack, having just eaten dinner. I didn’t want to start in on a project because I’d lose track of time. I wandered from room to room, enjoying the silence. And then? Then I picked up my book, drove to the soccer field and read in the car for 30 minutes until my daughter’s practice was over. I need to develop a plan for the next time I’m gifted with time alone at home, and hope it doesn’t take another five years!
I recently met a smart, savvy female blogger who touted the awesomeness of Pinterest. I’ve used it a few times (with little success) but after our conversation I logged back on. To my delight, there were zillions of great ideas that I couldn’t wait to try with Felicity. I pinned and pinned until my pinning finger pulsed with pain.
The next morning, I was psyched (could the P stand for psyched?!) about bringing the Pinterest ideas to life with Felicity. Over breakfast, she could barely get a babble in edgewise. I blabbed and blabbed about the crafts we were going to make and how everyone would just love our Valentine’s Day cards imprinted with hearts made from a squished toilet paper roll dipped in red paint. Yes. That’s what we were going to do and it was going to be F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S.
Finally it was time! Man oh man, I wish Felicity knew what I knew! What joy we would have putting the crafts together! Her shrieking with glee and me smiling back knowing that I’m raising a well-rounded child and single handedly enriching her life with art and sensory play.
Driving to the craft store, I realized that the P in Pinterest must stand for pint-sized Picasso. Mine was in the back seat, just minutes away from creating her masterpiece.
It wasn’t long though – before I realized what the P in Pinterest really stands for.
1.) Prozac – the time, effort and aggravation you spend trying to recreate a picturesque Pinterest pin will most certainly leave you feigning for Prozac. I thought I had enough of this before when I decided to make my own Easter wreath based on a Pinterest pin. I wasn’t happy with the wreath but I thought I was just being a perfectionist – surely my husband would like it. I hung it and eagerly awaited the compliments. He took one look at the wreath, one look at me and shook his head walking away saying: “This house used to be cool.”
2.) Poor – Pinterest will leave you poor. Don’t fall for all that “DIY is cheaper” nonsense. It just isn’t true. By the time you buy all the supplies, attempt to make it, reach for an element you thought you had at home but can’t find, go back out to the store, finish it, realize it’s pathetic looking, rationalize to yourself that you should just forget about it – but now you can’t because you’ve invested so much time and money into it - recreate it again, and so on, you will be POOR. Time is money, people. Leave the crafts to the crafty.
And last but definitely not least:
3.) Child P-rotective Services (cPs) - while on hunt for your craft supplies, you might be so in the zone that you look away from you child for a few minutes only to be jarred back to reality when she comes to your side chewing a baseball player’s wad size of gum. “Hmmm… how can that be?” you wonder, knowing that you did not give her any gum and, besides, she doesn’t have all her teeth. Then you spot it – dangling from her hand like a dead rat – it’s one of those gummy water filled worm only good for squishing with your bacteria laden-hands and collecting dust, lint, hair and every other microbe in sight. You know, the worms with eight dangly legs. Only this worm had seve legs.
You make it out of the craft store with your precious bundle in one piece and arrive home to embark on craft-a-palooza. You ease into it with some mixed media – markers and crayons on construction paper. Your phone rings but it’s in the other room so you have to get up from the table. A quick hello, busy, goodbye and back to mother daughter time right? Wrong. You take one look at your child and shriek: “You have a black eye!” Nope. It’s just purple marker all over her face. Of course, it’s non-toxic and washable, but what 1.5 year old do you know will let you rub near her eye with a washcloth multiple times?!
The next day, you think your Pinterest woes are over… they have to be, right? Wrong. You spot your child eyeballing one of yesterday’s Pinterest projects. Thinking all of your efforts were not in vain, you quickly reach over to get it (the pipe-cleaner sorter/shaker made out of an old raisin container) and elbow your daughter smack in the side of the head.
I’ve decided to leave Pinterest to the pros. Are you on Pinterest? ConnectHer has a Pinterest board – check it out! Don’t worry – it’s not managed by me!
I’m pregnant, and I want to scream it from the mountaintops. However, when I first found out, I wanted to hide my little secret away from everyone besides my husband.
Of course, we were beyond excited to be having a baby, but I was also overwhelmed with questions, and fears. I was afraid to tell others, and then to have something sad happen to the baby. I didn’t know how I would be able to handle telling others, and decided to keep our secret to just a few supportive and loving friends and family members. I was tired in the afternoons, and my poor husband lived with a sloth for a couple of months.
At my last doctors appointment, she recommended that I come out to the rest of our family, friends, and coworkers. She laughed and told me that I would most certainly start showing soon, and that people would rather hear it from my lips, then think I ate a couple of large burritos one day (I do love burritos though…so that may still happen.)
So we had our closest friends and family on the phone or over for a party this weekend, and we shared our great news. Today, I was able to share it with my coworkers, and our viewers on The Rhode Show.
I am due in the middle of the spring, and have been pregnant all winter long. I can not wait to make our baby it’s very own Christmas stocking, like how my mom did for me. My books and smartphone applications told us when we could hear sounds, so I tried to sing to it in the car. We took a picture of my first “bump shot” as soon as I was showing, and I’ve been excited to see how my body has changed to make room for this little person.
I’m delighted to be a mommy to be!
Nothing piques my interest more than news about how my children are shortening my life. It’s not the news itself that actually grabs my eye, but the fact that someone, hopefully someone in a position of authority, is corroborating what I already know – these kids are driving the express bus to my grave.
This week, a study by a team of Scandinavian researchers was published in Nature. The crux of their findings was that sons can shave a whopping 8.5 years, on average, off a mother’s life. In other words, a woman’s risk of death increases by 7% per year for each son born. Boys, the researchers state, are difficult from the moment they are born, presenting at the breast as more demanding feeders than girls, and, later, they fail to help their mothers with everyday tasks as much as their sisters.
This may be true in this particular project, which was conducted in a small Finnish village, but in practice in my humble middle-class American home, I’ve found the exact opposite is true. My son certainly did not reach the age of 19 without causing ripples along the way, but I’ve found that it is the female hormones emitted by my 15-year-old daughter that cause my heart to race, my blood pressure to soar and veins in my neck to pop. I’m not a medical professional, but none of these reactions can be healthy.
Once, when my children were 14 and 10, I told my mother I felt adolescence seemed to be going pretty smoothly. Sure, my son pushed some buttons and demanded freedoms I wasn’t ready to give, but it wasn’t too difficult to manage. My mother laughed ominously, having raised two boys and a girl.
“Oh, just wait,” she chuckled. “She’ll be worse. You were worse than both boys put together.”
Five years later, based on the results of my own in-family study, I must agree. My daughter’s moods spin like Linda Blair’s head and with an equally demonic presence. She’s laughing and being silly one moment but if I don’t pay attention and try to continue the frivoloty a moment too long, I might make her cry. I have mascara stains on the back of my armchair from last night’s meltdown, from where she leaned over and relayed the day’s slights into my neck.
The eggshells on which we walk are seemingly endless. Somehow my asking if she’s done with the cereal twists into me thinking she’s eaten enough, which she further translates into me thinking she needs to watch her weight. At the same time, the family’s shoulders have broadened to absorb some of her snippy remarks. Apparently, me singing along to a song in the car means she needs to change the station, and me having the same color nail polish or lip gloss - not just wearing the same color at the same time, but having at all – is the kiss of death for it.
I’ve come to the conclusion that this female adolescent cycle is at least worth 8.5 years off my life, especially since my husband and son have learned to spot the look in her eyes (what’s my problem?) so they back away from it, leaving me to bear the brunt. Plus, if it doesn’t end soon, it could add up to 10 years or more. Where’s the contact information for these Scandiavian researchers anyway?
Winter coats are a necessary evil here in the Northeast. They’re essential for protecting baby from harsh weather, awesome for letting your toddler play outside without getting soaked and most of them are pretty darn cute. So what’s so evil about them?
Winter coats and infant or toddler car seats just do not mix. It’s a safety thing! The main cause of concern is that a child’s car seat straps are too loose (even though they may feel tight to you) when he or she is wearing a bulky jacket, which means the car seat will not work properly in an accident. How scary is that?!
There are two fixes to this – a short route and a long route:
1). The Coat/Strap Experiment (aka the long route)
* Bundle the baby up in his winter jacket and put him in the car seat.
* Fasten the car seat buckles, securing baby in the car seat like you’re ready to go, loosening the straps if needed to fit both him and the jacket.
* Unbuckle the car seat buckles without loosening the straps.
* Take his jacket off and put him back in the car seat.
* Fasten the car seat buckles (again, don’t loosen or tighten the straps). Determine if the baby is secure enough in the car seat without you tightening the straps? If not, the coat is too bulky for the car seat. If the baby is wearing a bulky coat in an accident and the straps are too loose to account for the bulkiness of the coat, your precious bundle could be ejected from the car seat leaving only the jacket behind. This has actually happened
2). The Bold and the Bare-tiful (aka the short route):
* Warm up your car a few minutes before departure.
* Forgo the coat for the car ride (bringing it along for your final destination).
* Dress the baby in a few layers, such as a short-sleeved onesie, a long-sleeved top or onesie, and a warm but not super thick sweater.
* Bring a blanket for baby’s legs or cudding.
I use the short route. In addition to the safety and simplicity of it, I’m worried that Felicity will overheat. I tend to blast the heat in the car so it’s nice and toasty and I don’t want her sweating baby beads. My husband and I are on different sides of the fence with this. He thinks she should be wearing a jacket in the car. This is when we have to compromise. I put Felicity in her lighter (read: much less thick) winter coat when we go out in his car and she’s bold and bare-tiful in my car.
The rule of thumb for a car seat is that the only thing that’s supposed to be in it is your baby. This means that if you decide to use one of those stylish car seat covers, opt for one that covers baby by fastening to the outside of the car seat and not one you need to secure underneath the straps.
If you have any questions or your own winter wear challenges/tips, please post them in the comment section below. Stay safe and warm!
There have been so many times through the years that I feel like the bearer of bad news to my children. Reality is not always pretty and I’m the harbinger of reality in their lives.
Last weekend, my 15-year-old daughter went on a three-day trip to see her favorite dance crew give shows, meet and greets, dance parties and other assorted hoopla. She paid for the trip herself and anticipated its arrival for four months. The date came, she went and she had a fabulous time with her friends and “the boys” in the dance crew. Like all good things, though, it came to an end on Sunday.
“I have nothing else to look forward to.”
I actually wrestled with presenting the reality of the situation to her. She’s old enough and smart enough to understand the concept. I thought it best to let her wallow for a bit and see if the melancholy passed in an adolescent heartbeat, like many of her moods do. It, however, did not.
Two days after her return, and a million dramatic sighs and comments later, I looked her right in the eye and began awkwardly.
“You realize life is about being here,” I said, slicing my hand parallel to the floor in a horizontal line. “There are high points,” hand jutting upward, “and there are low points,” hand bottoming out in a valley before returning to the horizon. “But most of it is right here.”
Her look was akin to the devastation of learning the truth about Santa.
“Seriously? Well, I don’t know about you, but I just need to find something else to look forward to,” she said simply, flouncing away.
It made me think, as my kids’ simpler take on life often does, about having something to look forward to, something that reassures us through the valleys and gives us joy that speckles our lives afterward. Weekend plans beckon as our nose is to the grindstone during the work week. The promise of spring flowers brings sunshine to dark, cold winter days. A mid-afternoon snack eases the grumbles after a lackluster lunch.
The point is that while life cannot be all sparkles and rainbows, we each should reassess what we consider the highlights to always have something, however small, to look forward to. It’s a treat we owe ourselves.
My mother lives 1,200 miles away, out near my brothers in the Midwest, the land of plentiful jobs and a lower cost of living. They are all native Rhode Islanders and they miss the ocean, the clam cakes, and catching a Red Sox game on network television or a local radio station. But, they are together out there and I am still here in Rhode Island with my husband and children. That’s a reality that I dislike. Every day, all year. I understand the rationale for their migration west, each years apart from the other, with my mother going just a few years ago, after she retired. But, like many other things in life that we can understand, I don’t have to like it.
There are several points throughout the year when missing having my mother close is extra difficult for me, making me teary at times and leaving me with a sharp pang in my soul. The holidays are difficult, from Thanksgiving right through Christmas. When the first brother moved away 20 years ago, he would make the trip back every Thanksgiving with his family. We’d all exchange our Christmas presents in that week and it was a hectic but loving visit. Now, my holidays are quieter and the pang grows throughout the month.
But, my birthday is perhaps equally as difficult without my mother physically here with me. I’ve always been a birthday fanatic. It’s my day – no one else I know shares the day – and I welcome the good wishes, hugs, cards in the mail box and online. My children know this and make a big deal out of getting a cake, my husband whisks me out for a special meal, my friends plan get togethers and send cards. I love it, especially when they liken it to a national holiday.
My mother always sends a gift in the mail well in advance of the day and I place it in plain sight on the kitchen island, awaiting the big day. This year, she sent a beautiful scarf and a card that brought me to tears because of the sentiment it contained but also her handwritten note at the bottom, calling me her “beautiful daughter.” I missed her with me, I missed her hug and that motherly look that doesn’t need a sentiment in a card to express pride and love. Even so, my day was made complete when the phone rang on my drive home and it was my mother singing “Happy birthday” to me. We chatted, I told her the card made me cry, which made her choke up a bit.
It was my birthday and I was so happy to share a few minutes of it with my mother.
From the moment Felicity was born, I started saying “good job.” It was an instant, automatic, and easy response. I said it when she did a really big burp (in infancy), rolled over, sat up, pressed a button on a toy that made music play, said “mama” – and everything in between.
It wasn’t long after she was born that I found this blog, “Good job and other things you shouldn’t say or do…” by Jennifer Lehr. Jennifer is a no-nonsense, hardcore, opinionated advocate of raising children respectfully. Her blog introduced me to what’s wrong with constantly saying “good job” to your child. Since then, I’ve been reading as much as I can about praise and I’ve learned two things – first, I’m a “good job” junkie; second, IT’S REALLY CHALLENGING TO STOP SAYING “GOOD JOB!”
It’s not impossible though and it’s so important! Here’s why:
- It’s mindless: It’s incredibly easy for me to say “good job.” There’s no thinking required. Why not take an opportunity to support what Felicity is doing by observing and reinforcing her behavior?
- It’s meaningless: Of course, I do really mean it when I say “good job!” From her perspective though, it’s just another phrase I say all the time. It does nothing to reinforce the behavior, engage her, show her I’m interested in what she’s doing, etc.
- It advocates a do-this-for-praise environment: Excessive ”good job”/”good girl”/”good boy” can hinder a child’s innate curiosity to explore, discover, and learn by teaching them that praise is the climax of their activity. In turn, they begin seeking praise instead of genuinely exploring for the sake of their own curiosity.
- It’s a rude interruption to her activity: When I exuberantly blurt out “good job” when Felicity’s gone down one stair on her bum and holding the railing (the way I’m trying to teach her), I rudely interrupt what she’s doing. Instead of continuing on, she wants to go back up and start again. In the past few days, instead of saying “good job,” I say: “You went down one step, only a few more to go until we get to the floor.” Since I started saying it, she hasn’t turned around once to go back upstairs. It’s amazing.
Instead of saying “good job,” there are much more constructive ways to encourage, engage and offer positive, purposeful praise:
- Say nothing: This is the most challenging for me, although I promise it does get easier! When you say nothing, you allow your child to continue the activity without interrupting or breaking their focus.
- Repeat the action: Repeating what your child did (“You jumped so high!”) validates the action and proves that you’re engaged in what they’re doing.
- Make an observation: Demonstrate you’re listening by making an observation - ”You worked hard on coloring your picture – you were really concentrating.”
- Say thank you: Instead of saying “good job,” say “thank you.” ”Thank you for putting your toys away. Now we can start another activity.”
- Cultivate empathy: Show your child what their action resulted in by telling them. “Emma was so happy when you let her play with your toy!”
These are five quick fixes for “good job” junkies. I’m trying to weave them into our daily interactions and use constructive positive praise instead of the meaningless, mundane “good job.” It’s a challenge, but it’s worth it!