DAY SIXTEEN


take chances

I cannot believe how close to the end I am.  Just six more days and my new journey begins. Usually when I am doing an extreme program like this, by this point, I am counting down the minutes until the end. With this one, I am coasting to the finish line, not really looking forward to it being over. The restrictions offer me clear boundaries with far fewer decisions to make. The real challenge for me will come when the guardrails come down and I have to make difficult choices. I have gotten really comfortable with this lifestyle as it is and, while I’m cautiously optimistic that I have the strength and willpower to stay the course, I cannot say that I am not a bit nervous about life after the cleanse. But, it’s getting closer!

What I consumed:

  • Cleanse Shake with strawberries, bananas and pineapple
  • 5 dates
  • 20 carrots
  • Lentil soup
  • Salmon with mustard, lemon, dill and basil
  • Quinoa
  • Steamed cauliflower
  • 19 gigantic supplement capsules
  • 64 oz water

How I felt:

Last night, to combat my recent bout of sleeplessness, I took two ambien. Worked like a charm and I slept solidly until my son woke me at 6am. I’m continuing to feel great. My knee pain, which has been debilitating, has subsided a bit with the combination of some anti-inflammatory drugs and the ease on my joints that comes from not eating wheat.

Physical Activity:

I did a 5K on the elliptical in about 45 minutes. I am trying to mix it up a bit. I then did a 1000m row on the rowing machine. That was a nice change of pace and worked my shoulders and back in all kinds of wonderful ways. I also did some core work on the mats using a medicine ball. My abs are going to be screaming tomorrow!

I found this great quote today:

“Do not be afraid to color outside the lines. Take risks and do not be afraid to fail. Know that when the world knocks you down, the best revenge is to get up and continue forging ahead. Do not be afraid to be different or to stand up for what’s right. Never quiet your voice to make someone else feel comfortable. No one remembers the person that fits in. It’s the one who stands out that people will not be able to forget.”
― Nancy Arroyo Ruffin, Letters to My Daughter: A Collection of Short Stories and Poems about Love, Pride, and Identity

I love this quote for a lot of reasons. First, it made me think about how many years I desperately tried to blend into the wallpaper, never wanting anyone to see what made me different. Between looking different, having a different type of family and just feeling like an oddball, I wanted anything but to stand out. It also made me think about my children who as a teen and preteen are deep in the struggle of trying to find their own identities while still trying to fit in. For me, I have circled the sun enough times to be comfortable with who I am and I can confidently live out loud. For my kids, it pains me to see how much time and energy is put into wearing the right clothes, going to the right parties, thinking the right thoughts. Even though they are both fairly confident and independent minded, they get sucked up into the group think that is characteristic of middle school.

When I was in middle school, I didn’t have a fraction of the confidence that my children have and, as a result, I hid. Even as an adult, because of my lack of upbringing and lack of sophistication, I gingerly stepped through life, watching what others were doing around me to ensure that I was making the right moves. But, as is said, with age comes wisdom and now I can make my own choices and not care about how others view me. As long as my decisions do not hurt anyone else, I am free to live my life in any way that makes sense for me. And, I love that about myself. I am not afraid to color outside the lines, step out of the boundaries, be different, think different. I am quietly rebellious. I don’t want to look like everyone else and I definitely don’t want to think like everyone else because I believe that my quirkiness is what makes me special and interesting.

But how do you teach that to an 11 year-old or a 14 year-old who are in the throes of peer pressure? When my teenager shared with us his commitment to not smoke or do drugs, I beamed. And I prayed that he could maintain the ability to resist the unending temptation coming his way. My younger son, who regularly proclaims his disdain for the boys who all have to wear the same sneakers, will undoubtedly be dragging us to the store to buy the latest and greatest by the time he hits 7th grade. i’ve come to learn it’s the rite of passage.

I often think about how, after I am gone, people will eulogize me. What will they say to describe me? What will be the one characteristic that will universally recalled? About six years ago, I participated in a workshop where we had to choose two words to describe our personal brand. Back then, the best I could come up with was funny and smart. When I finished the workshop, the words I strived for were courageous and inspiring. It set me on a path of intention. I no longer needed to be seen as the funny girl or the smart one. I wanted my legacy to be someone who took risks and lived life bravely. Even though I struggle to accept it when people call me brave, I recognize that I have fulfilled my objective. I fearlessly navigate my life, knowing that the best rewards come from taking the greatest risks. Maybe it is easier for me because I never had the luxury of getting too comfortable (although we can even find comfort in constantly being uncomfortable) but I’ll give myself more credit. I really am not afraid to raise my hand and step forward and share my truth. I am usually the first to volunteer and the last to concur. I’ll share my secrets and be unforgiving in my relentless for my passions. I don’t need to follow the crowd for I am perfectly comfortable walking all alone. All of this makes me really happy. And really damn proud of myself.

When I look at my kids, I get pretty pumped up too. Sure, they are products of us and embody all the love and nurturing we offer them but they are fierce in their own right. I have never worried about my children being wallflowers. I have never feared that they would get lost in the pack. They have two very distinctive voices and, in the way that suits them, they make themselves heard. I look forward to seeing who they are and how they show up in their lives once they get past the horrible years of adolescence. I am inspired by them as I see them guiding me, never feeling hamstrung or fearful of pushing boundaries. Our job is to continue to teach them how to respectfully stand apart and be the amazing and unforgettable people they are.

DAY FOURTEEN


parenting

Wow!  Two weeks down and just one more to go. If it were not for this blog, I think I would have lost count of the days. I’m experiencing a new normal and am finding it easier and easier to adapt to this lifestyle. That’s not to say that I am not getting tested regularly like today when I was at Target and walking through the food section, wanting to buy nuts and chips and ice cream and all kinds of other tempting goodies. And then when I picked my son up from lunch with his friends and he got into the car with his leftover pizza. And again when we ordered Chinese food for dinner and I happily ate my steamed chicken and vegetables but longingly eyed up the fried rice and egg rolls that sat on the table. But I endured and, at the end of today, I will continue to feel really good about my choices.

What I consumed:

  • Cleanse Shake with strawberries, blueberries and raspberries
  • Lentil soup
  • 20 carrots
  • 2 clementines
  • Steamed chicken and vegetables
  • 19 gigantic supplement capsules
  • 64 oz water

How I felt:

I’m having some new sleep challenges. I seem to be dreaming a lot more and am waking up in the middle of the night, startled from sleep. I continue to take Ambien to sleep at night and am wondering if it is time to take a break for a while and see what my natural sleep pattern is. As a result, I am getting a bit more tired during the day and, today, I fell asleep at 5pm after struggling to keep my eyes open. It is not normal for me to take a nap during the day but my sleep pattern is leaving me a bit weary during the day. Otherwise, I feel great. Physically, I feel one million times better than I did just two weeks ago. Apparently, the cleanse is having some really positive side effects. I went to get my haircut today and when my hair stylist touched my hair she asked me if I am doing something different. I had been noticing that the texture of my hair was changing from its typical fine and flyaway to a little more dense and textured. It was great to have her reinforce the positive changes I have made with my health!

Physical Activity:

45 minutes on the elliptical. I had a short window of time to get to the gym this morning so I was able to squeeze in an abbreviated workout. I guess something is better than nothing. I feel like I ended the day in the plus column.

If I had to pick a theme for today, it would be parenthood. Certainly one of the defining aspects of my life is my role as a mother. Some days I get caught up in all the drama around my own angst and the stresses of work that I forget about my role as a parent. Even though I am parenting every day, I am not always as present and intentional as I would like. I definitely get distracted. Then I have days like today where my skills are put to the test. I have been the parent of a teenager for two years now and I can attest to the fact that this is the hardest job I have ever had and probably ever will have. Managing the delicate balancing act of trying to allow my son to gain his freedom and making sure he is safe and healthy is tremendously difficult and often quite scary.

I love being a parent and am grateful for the opportunity to raise two sons. I learned very quickly what my mother never caught on to, which is that your children have the power to fill you with more happiness and contentment than anything else you could ever experience. There is nothing that parallels the depth of joy that comes from loving your children. As much as I fantasize about the freedom that comes with being childless, there is not a universe in which I would trade being a parent for any other lifestyle. And, at the same time, I recognize that parenthood raises the stakes on everything else in my life. Every challenge I face is exacerbated by the fact that I have children to consider when making decisions. I cannot be impulsive and I always have to factor in the impact of my life choices on my children. My job is to raise happy, well-adjusted and healthy children and nothing can trump that.

Today, after my haircut, my son asked if he could go with me to Target with some of his friends. I agreed, grateful for some face time with him and some exposure to his friends. Despite the fact that we live in the same house and sit down to dinner nearly every night together, I don’t get to spend a great deal of time with my son. When he is home, he is either in the basement playing xbox or, more frequently, in his room with his door closed, skyping with his friends or listening to music. I grab any opportunity I can to spend time with him and observe him. At 14, I recognize that there is a lot going through his maturing mind and it is rare that he divulges his deeper thoughts. Whereas my 11 year-old son will come and sit with me and still share some of his musings,my teenager is locked down and strategically chooses what he shares. I feel fortunate because he is sharing anything with me and I credit me and my husband for our steadfast commitment to forcing an open line of communication.

My son usually only texts me when he needs something and today was no exception. While I was at the hair salon, my phone was constantly buzzing with requests for money, pick up times, additions to his gaggle of pals joining us on our Target excursion. Nowhere to be found was a please or thank you – just a lot of entitlement. Of course, when I needed to communicate with him, I got radio silence in return. As I was circling the block several times while waiting for him and his friends to finish up with their lunch, I wondered if I am too accommodating to my son and if I should be less agreeable to his requests. Here again, it is a fine balance as I don’t want to be the parent who is always saying no but I also don’t want to be the parent who is always saying YES. Setting boundaries with your kids is critical and extremely complicated. My son happens to be a child who always required structure and guardrails to help him navigate through his life so I am particularly sensitive to make sure that I do not give him too much latitude. He gets uncomfortable when he sees his friends behaving badly because their parents are too liberal with the rules. He asserted his need for rules and regulations as a preschooler when he regularly reported the class offenders and was labeled “class cop.” I adore this about my son and, simultaneously, struggle to make sure I am parenting him appropriately. Since I don’t have any kinds of role models when it comes to being a parent, everything needs to be learned. Of course, all parents, no matter how much support or guidance they might receive, have to learn for themselves how to be an effective parent for their own children (no, they do not come with manuals). For me, I lacked a lot of instincts and tend to question myself a lot more than I would prefer. I’m never quite sure if my approach is right but I tend to just go with it and hope for the best outcome.

After chauffeuring my son and his friends and managing to keep an appropriate distance while shopping at Target, I dropped the group at one of the other kids’ homes and left him there for the afternoon. Later, when he returned home and we were eating dinner, I could tell he was frustrated. We poked and prodded a bit and he confessed that he was getting a lot of pressure from his friends to smoke pot but was staying true to his commitment to not do so. I could tell how disheartened he was and, while he was resolute in his decision, he was feeling worn down and turned off by the growing number of friends succumbing. I am no longer shocked when my son talks about his friends smoking pot because it has been going on for a while and I know it’s become very commonplace amongst some middle schoolers and lots of kids in the high school. He has been very candid with us about his feelings around smoking of any kind and, because we have agreed to not intervene with the other kids, he has felt comfortable sharing who the offenders are. And, here again I am tested because I need to maintain my son’s trust so he will continue to share with us but I wonder if I should be sharing what I know with the other children’s parents. My commitment needs to be to my child and I also feel like I have a responsibility to the community of parents.

After the pot discussion, my son shared a video that the older brother of one his friends made. It was a rap video strewn with girls’ naked asses, kids smoking pot, drinking and making vulgar references to women. I am, by no means, a prude and still I was outraged and offended. My husband and I sat at the dinner table after the kids left the kitchen and just stared at each other with our mouths agape. The boy who made the video is a senior in high school and, even though I know they are pretty much adults at that point and that he was creating what might be considered art, I could not wrap my brain around the fact that he and his friends would create something so offensive or that his parents were ok with that. We wondered if their parents even knew about it. And I pondered what I would do if my son had created something so disgusting. In that moment, the reality of what types of influences my children are exposed to completely overwhelmed me. We work so hard to keep our kids safe and instill the right values in them and then they go out into the world and continually run into kids whose parents approach things very differently than we do. And there is nothing we can do about it but keep staying the course.

When I was a teenager I remember my mother saying to me that no matter what you do, you can’t guarantee a positive outcome for your kids. Her comment stuck with me because I perceived it, at the time, as a copout. She was making herself feel better when she saw kids that came from good upbringings become substance abusers because it seemed to minimize the less than stellar results of her own children. She unburdened herself of any guilt she might have felt with the consolation that, even if she had been a better parent, the outcomes might have been the same. I called bullshit on that back then and I call bullshit on it today. There is no question that some kids get derailed no matter how much love, guidance and support you provide. We only have so much control over what happens to our kids. However, I believe that sometimes we cannot deal with what is happening right before our eyes so we have to turn away and then we rationalize and minimize. And, with that, I pray that I am tuned in enough to be able to catch wind of my kids going astray.

Suddenly, all my other distress seems just a bit trite and irrelevant. Another reason why being a parent is so amazing- it is the perfect antidote for self-indulgence.

DUALITY


duality“I walk on for a while and reach a round sort of clearing. Surrounded by tall trees, it looks like the bottom of a gigantic well. Sunlight shoots down through the branches like a spotlight illuminating the grounds at my feet. The place feels special, somehow. I sit down in the sunlight and let the faint warmth wash over me, taking out a chocolate bar from my pocket and enjoying the sweet taste. Realizing all over again how important sunlight is to human beings, I appreciate each second of that precious light. The intense loneliness and helplessness I felt under those millions of stars has vanished. But as time passes, the sun’s angle shifts and light disappears. I stand up and retrace the path back to the cabin.”  – Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

After spending nearly half a century in this life, I still marvel at the duality that occurs before me each and every day. The darkness that gives way to light, the silver linings that provide a sugar coating to even the most acerbic morsels. It is the yin and yang that provides some sort of karmic balance to life – the rushing in and recession of the tides, the endings that lead to beginnings balancing out the beginnings that ungratefully lead to endings.

And, while I know this duality appears before me daily, it is only on rare occasions that I stop to take notice. It is like a gentle tap on my shoulder reminding me to pay attention, letting me know that an important plot point is about to revealed. A gentle nudge as I doze off in the classroom that is my life, reminding me to take note for this will be on the final exam. This week, I was jolted awake as I sat on an airplane heading out on yet another journey. As I leaned back in my seat, closing my eyes to rest for a few moments as I normally do when the plane is racing down the runway, pushing the engines to launch the giant tin can into the air, I was reminded of the significance of the day. That day was my mother’s birthday. My mother, who has been dead for 2 years now.  Or, is it 3? I have lost count.  I could probably stop for a moment and try to remember if it was 2012 or 2013 when she finally departed but the time elapsed is meaningless. For, I did not mark the months with remembrances. I did not light a candle each year. I did not grieve as so many of my friends have, deeply mourning the loss of their beloved moms. Their supporters, their nurturers, the presidents of their fan clubs, their best friends. I don’t recall exactly which day she died and I was not there with her when she took her last breath. I did not go through the rite of passage that children are meant to experience when their parents take their journey to next life. I did not hold her hand or stroke her brow, reminding her how much I loved her or how we would all go on without her, missing her every day and feeling the void of her presence. I have no idea what the end of my mother’s life was like. I don’t know what she looked like, I don’t know if she suffered or passed with ease, relieved to have unburdened herself of the weight that she carried so deeply inside her. I don’t know if anyone stood by her side or if she drifted off alone and bewildered. And, frankly, I don’t care.

My mother’s birthday is also the day my oldest son was conceived. I know this because he was conceived at a fertility clinic. I remember the day, back in 2000, when I lay in the darkened room, after having been inseminated turkey-baster style, laying with my knees in the air for the suggested 30 minutes in hope that just one of my husband’s sperm would find its way to my lone egg that sat alone, hoping for some attention. Despite the efforts to pump up my hormones that would generate many follicles from which many eggs would spring, I produced one and my doctors, in their reassuring way, left me with the optimistic hope of “there’s always next month.” But, always the overachiever, I would not fail. I was confident that my solitary egg would find its partner and we would produce a healthy bundle of joy. And we did. And it all began on my mother’s birthday.

My mother died just days before her birthday. She never was honest about what year she was born so I suspect she was around 82 or 83 or 84, or something like that, when she died.  I can’t remember the last birthday I celebrated with her but it was a long time before her departure. My mother left me emotionally and spiritually long before her body ceased to function. My mother forced me to remove her from my life to finally escape a lifetime of mental and emotional abuse. I believed that the day I shut that door for the last time, even though I may not have realized it had been closed for good, that I was releasing the toxins from my body. It felt like the beginning of the journey to recovery and that I was providing myself with the space and freedom to explore my pain and heal myself. I don’t remember how many years ago that was anymore. I try not to think about it. I suppose, as survivors, we are supposed to have psychic calendar notations that are engraved in our minds but, for me – someone who memorializes everything – these dates are fuzzy. The ink has bled and I can no longer make out the dates or the numbers. I simply don’t want to mark the passing of time. I guess I just don’t want to preserve them with the same significance as I do the milestones of my or my children’s lives. I want them to be erased over time. I want them to cease to exist. Perhaps this way it might all be less real.

It is not at all ironic to me that my motherhood began on my mother’s birthday. In fact, it is symbolically appropriate. It is the duality of my life. The beginning of this new chapter, the creation of my first child, was the denouncement of my victimization by my mother. It made sense. I would never forget the day and the two would be inextricably intertwined. Because they are and they should be. While my own mother tortured me, motherhood freed me. Motherhood saved me from my mother. Motherhood, over time, reaffirmed what, deep inside, I always knew to be true. Children are not supposed to be treated the way I was. I deserved to be loved and nurtured and cared for and respected and adored and cherished and encouraged to reach my full potential. I was not meant to be demeaned and demoralized and undermined and sideswiped and beaten and marginalized and penalized and tormented and hurt. I needed to see for myself that the natural order of things was that parents love their children – no matter what. I had to experience, first hand, that it is not a natural occurrence that, with frustration and anxiety, comes abuse. I could not survive unless I realized that I would not be the monster that I experienced my own mother to be. And my son, conceived on that cold day in February in Millburn, NJ, the same day my mother enjoyed another spin around the sun, and then my other son just three short years later, liberated me from the fear that I could never break the cycle of abuse and that perhaps, in fact, I deserved just what I got.

After my flight that morning was reaching cruising altitude, I opened my eyes and took a deep breath.  The realization that today was that day, the mother of all dualities, I stopped thinking and decided to turn on my iPad an enjoy the remainder of my short flight listening to an audiobook. I had been waiting to listen to Not My Father’s Son by one of my favorite actors, Alan Cumming. There had been a resistance in me to start the book because I knew enough about the story to feel a sense of dread. Alan was telling his own story of abuse. He was sharing the outcomes of his journey towards healing and, without question, I knew I would experience disruption and dismay. But, today, it made sense. Today was the day that I needed to take this on. Sometimes you just know. It seemed fitting.

February is now this odd month for me. As a child, I worshipped my mother. I would lay by her feet and love on her endlessly. I would spend my weekends sitting in our kitchen, in our little row house in Queens, playing Rummy 500 with her. She never let me win but I didn’t care. I treasured those hours because she was peaceful and we were together, far away from the yelling and screaming, the hitting, the painful words, the outbursts, the overdosing. Those afternoons were quiet and calm and predictable and reassuring, filled with hope that my mommy really loved me and would soon stop being so angry with me. Every year I waited with anticipation for her birthday because I wanted to shower her with cards and gifts to show her how much I loved her. I felt certain that if I made her feel special that she would reciprocate, returning my affection with kindness of her own. But, just two days after her birthday was my parents’ wedding anniversary – a day that ultimately left my mother filled with sadness after she and my father divorced. It was a constant reminder to her of failure and loss and it often overshadowed the joyousness of her special day. And, like a sponge, I absorbed her duality and struggled to balance her yin and yang. I adopted her pain as my own. And February became a month of quiet conflict. Atop the normal mountain of malaise that many of experience in the period that lay between the holidays and the first chirpy songs of birds signifying the onset of spring, I navigated my own way through the murky waters of my mother’s disdain and disappointment. I fought her battle. And she never shielded me from the shrapnel that pierced my skin after each and every explosion.

I finished the book before I landed on my return flight home the following night. I couldn’t stop listening.  In the gym, I lost myself in his story, so different in his homeland of Scotland than mine in New York, far across the pond. Yet, his words resonated with me. I felt the pain as he shared every blow he endured from his father who battled his own demons, releasing onto his children the pain that he could not process. On the plane ride home, I stared out the window, holding back deep sobs as I listened to him recount his indignities, recognizing, perhaps for the first time, that I was not alone. Hearing him describe his deep wounds, I instinctively felt my own scars and they nearly ripped apart, revealing the gaping holes that still lie opened inside of me.

The duality this week began benignly – almost with a hint of joy. The reminder of that day I sat in the darkened room filled me with joy. Seemingly a lifetime ago before I understood the restorative power that motherhood would offer me. Before I laid eyes on the beautiful boy who would grow into a tall, handsome young adult, all attitude and confidence and humor mixed with the expected level of obnoxiousness we have come to expect from teenagers. Before I understood that I was not meant to live inside a prison forever and would be set free to experience the euphoria of unconditional love towards and from my own children. As a child who grew up feeling alone and out-of-place, never truly belonging to a family or having an assigned seat at the table, the luxuriousness of looking at my children and knowing they were mine and I was theirs – that we were a family, with bonds that need not be broken – cascaded me into a sense of peace and serenity that never seemed a reality when looking at my life from the other side. The counterbalance of that day – the marking of my mother’s birthday also seemed benign as I have healed so many wounds and have forgiven her for all that she took from me and all that pain she bestowed upon me that was never meant to be mine. Yet, unbeknownst to me, this year, the duality would be marked differently. There are no coincidences and no accidents. Life takes us places that we sometimes don’t want to go and forces us, often begrudgingly, to accept those things we would rather ignore or reject. The duality for me this year was not the lightness and dark or the beginning and end. This year, the duality was the denial and acceptance.

I have accepted so much about the pain I have endured in my life and I have learned to nurture myself in replacement. Through no choice of my own, I became extremely proficient at tending to my needs and ensuring that I was able to move from one day to the next, as best I possibly could. I learned, regrettably, that I would have to care for myself because there was not going to be anyone else around who would take on that responsibility. For as far back as my memory will allow me to go, it has been me – all alone in the world – navigating the pathways and hoping for a positive outcome. That, in itself, has its own duality for it has made me strong and it has caused weakness in my foundation. I am closed and withdrawn at times, protective and defensive, fearful of intimacy that might cause me to drop my guard and stop protecting my fortress of solitude. And I have resilience and strength and power that allows me to sit on the front lines, sipping a cocktail and awaiting the next round of fire with ease and assurance that my line is protected. Yet, while I have accepted my fate and processed through the pain and disappointment of never having had the opportunity to be loved in a way that was my birthright, I have also spent a great deal of my life in denial. I struggle to accept how deep my wounds are, how painful the burn is, how limiting my existence can be. I force myself to look away when I am confronted with the loneliness and alienation and abandonment that resulted from ongoing and erosive abuse. Being told I am worthless and not a good enough person to be loved again and again finally sinks into your cells and it becomes part of your hard-wiring that no amount of therapy or medication or restorative affection can ever heal. Never having felt the safety and security that allows a child to mature into adulthood and endure the obstacles that are assuredly blocking your path with dignity and grace, creates a perpetuating stream of anxiety and self-loathing that requires a virtual exorcism to eradicate. One that I have yet to perform. By the end of that flight, after the last word was read and I was left to ponder my own experience, I knew, of course, the timing was pre-determined and the context was appropriately set. The scabs needed to be ripped off and I was meant to be catapulted back into space. It was time to embark on the next leg of this mission.

I am alone and I am frightened and, at the same time, I am secure in my ability to navigate my course. I hope that there is a day, some day in February in some year before me that I will look back and remember the day that I started to stop feeling so isolated and solitary and overwhelmed and insecure. And, I know that it may never be that way. For it is, perhaps, my destiny to live this life and endure these struggles for a purpose far greater than I will ever know. And the duality of my life is to enjoy the beauty that lies right beside the pain.

HAPPIEST NEW YEAR


happy new year

I think most people I know are sharing the same sentiment today – “Where did this year go?” How, possibly, could it be the last day of 2014? It is remarkable how quickly the year slips by once we say goodbye to summer. It is like the first half of the year marches along at regular speed and then, the moment the kids return to school and the temperatures begins to drop, the calendar pages turn at a more rapid clip and the days begin to dwindle down. And then it is December 31.

As with most years, I am not making resolutions.  Instead, I am reflecting and learning and continuing to set intentions for my life. This year is noticeably different for me because I am saying goodbye to the year without regrets, without disdain for the burdens that challenged me along the way and without any signs of dismay. I am pleasantly looking back and optimistically looking forward. It is ironic because this year presented many more dramatic challenges than any year prior and I had to confront some of my most perilous demons. And I did this with grace and wisdom. Calmly and wisely. I recognized that, at this point in my life, nothing will really break me and everything is simply another speed bump that will only injure me if I drive too fast. If I slow down and focus on the bump, ensuring that I am careful and measured, I will move over it and continue on my way without damage.

This was the year that my children evolved into fully formed people.  My older son turned 14, towered over me significantly and gave me a sign that, perhaps, we did something right. Our relationship became more three-dimensional and no longer simply focused on me parenting him but shifted to him beginning to teach me about the world he lives in. It is a magical experience to see your child through this new lens and to be able to exist in this new, mature state. While the teenage years can test your resolve and make you sometimes question your decision to become a parent in the first place, it is also a transitional period where you begin to form this adult relationship with your children. While we are not friends, per se, we have a camaraderie and rapport that is unlike any other in my life. I cherish it and am thankful that we have transitioned to this place. It is one of the best gifts this year has brought and has helped me immeasurably. Knowing that my son understands more of the complexities of life forces me to process my own experiences differently and causes me to behave more thoughtfully. As parents, we always know our children are watching but we also recognize that their innocence often blinds them from the more serious matters that we address. As they get older, our children develop a sophistication that forces us to protect them while respecting their maturity and understanding. And, again, my children help me in ways they will never understand and in ways I never imagined. I don’t burden them with my challenges but they quietly and unknowingly make them so much easier to bear.

My younger son also provided me with a perspective that took me by surprise. At 11, he is so unlike my older boy. He has a sensitivity that is deep and penetrating and he empathizes and finds compassion for even the most hopeless souls. While he, too, is maturing rapidly and evolving into a more sophisticated being, he’s still my baby boy and still reveals to me the innocence and neediness for love and comfort that has been a trademark since infancy. He will still cuddle or tackle me with hugs when I return from trips, embracing me with a grip so tight and powerful that I am certain he can hug away all the pain and suffering I have endured in my life. His squeeze is like a panacea for every discomfort and an aloe for my wounds. He is pure healing and teaches me, continually, how to be a better parent and a more loving and evolved human.

This year also marked the 20th anniversary of my marriage. It hardly seems like two decades have evaporated and it is remarkable to me, given my history, that I could manage to maintain a loving relationship for so long. I am always quick to point out that my marriage (like everyone’s, frankly) is flawed and complicated but I have a new respect for the dynamics that make my marriage work and have employed new tools to ensure that I do my best to navigate this relationship intentionally and meaningfully. A switch went off in my head this year, without warning and without provocation, reminding me that, with its imperfections, my marriage is, without question, the most substantial and important relationship in my life and one that provides me with comfort and security in between all the discomfort and insecurity. When the final assessment comes to bear, it is a source of strength and empowerment and my husband and I, together, create a multiplier much greater than we do as individuals.

I continue to learn so much about myself through all the incredible relationships in my life. I have, over the past many years, become much more selective about who I share my life with and how I include others in my life. I have always felt a sense of obligation to provide my friends and loved ones with more of myself than perhaps I should be willing to offer up. My tendency has been to over-deliver and not reserve a portion of myself for me, resulting in an emptiness inside of myself that those on the outside could never fill because I had given up so many parts of me without tending to or nurturing my own needs. Perhaps it was one too many betrayals or disappointments or maybe I have just reached a level of maturity in my life, understanding what my boundaries need to be, but I have arrived at a very comfortable place where I have lowered the expectations on myself and, by association, on others. I still have incredibly powerful relationships that reverberate in my life, providing wisdom, insight, comfort, pleasure, connection, validation, joy and love.  And, I have a clear sense of my needs from my relationships and what I can offer to them. My friends have taught me how to be a better friend. My very best friend has provided a mirror in which I can see myself so differently than I ever did before and his influence has seeped into every aspect of my life, providing me with a deeper level of understanding of myself and a framework to operate more purposefully and reflectively. With the foundation that was established by my family, I have often feared that I would never be capable of dropping my guard or shedding the thin layer of protection that I have wrapped myself in for so many years to ensure that no one could penetrate or violate my vulnerabilities. Through lots of hard work, thoughtfulness and the good fortune of surrounding myself with an incredible set of people, I have managed to emerge from my past and live a life filed with love. I am able to walk through life without my shield and have learned – sometimes in difficult ways – how to trust and who is deemed trustworthy. I have learned to respect my own instincts and believe in what I know to be true. I feel confident and resolved.

As I get older, I experience what many others before me have which includes a deepening sense of the impermanence of our lives. I recognize that I likely have less time left than I have already spent living this life. I have fewer and fewer opportunities to impact those around me and create the indentation I want to leave on the world. It becomes so much more obvious to me how critical it is to choose wisely and be thoughtful about the life that I continue to create for myself. There is no end to the learning and the need for growth and change, despite how much of my life is behind me. And, my ability to adapt and enlarge my field of vision is directly correlated with my level of happiness and contentment.

So, once again, I will make the transition from one year to the next, resolving not to make resolutions but, instead to make the journey with wisdom and reflection and appreciation for the interconnectivity of all that touch our lives and all of our actions and behaviors. I will continue to be overly grateful, no matter how trite it may seem, because I am confident that gratitude trumps discontent every single time. No clever quotes are necessary to recognize that if I can focus on all that is hopeful and joyful in my life while respecting the challenges and disappointments, I will continue to find gratitude in each and every facet of my being. And I will have the strength and courage to take on any challenge I am presented with. Yes, nothing has the power to break me – only I do.

It will be a happy new year and I wish that to all of those who share this life with me, in any form. There are many who I have never met who provide quiet comfort and compassion and solidarity. There are those who are so ever-present in my life who fill my heart with so much love that I often feel like I don’t have the capacity to contain it. No matter where we intersect, I offer the blessing of good health, happiness and peace in 2015. We all have the opportunity to shine.

CONFIDENT


stevejobsAs a professional woman who has spent nearly every day of my almost 25 year career feeling like I would be “found out” to be the fraud I really am, I have always been fascinated by the different ways men and women behave in the workplace.  Even long before I had kids or was even thinking of having kids, I struggled to understand if I truly lacked the tenacity that my male counterparts possessed or if I was stymied by something more significant.  Regardless, I have always suffered from a low supply of confidence at work and struggled to muster the courage to ask for what I wanted. Year after year the problem perpetuated and I became more disenchanted and equally perplexed by my difficulties. It was just a few years back – before Sheryl Sandberg started encouraging us all to “lean in” – that I began to realize that this issue was not unique to me.  It was more than just, perhaps, the lack of confidence-boosting during my upbringing or the low self-esteem that haunted me throughout my young life. There were women all around me in the very same boat. We all were feeling a few steps back, lacking the “balls” to make big decisions or stand up for ourselves.  And, while there have been many articles saying that women step on each other as they climb the corporate ladder, most of my experience has been that many of us cower in the corner and let the guys have a free reign. It seems uncharacteristic to the way I live the rest of my life but, for whatever reason, there is a hard-wiring that comes into play when I show up at work – even today – that prevents me from stepping up and taking the reins.  Even when I know it is the right thing to do.

This topic has resurfaced recently for me, particularly because I have suddenly seen a stream of articles coming out, including The Confidence Gap from The Atlantic, highlighting this phenomenon that holds many women back. And, to add to that, I hear my friends talking about it more and more. We are at that age where we have paid our dues and earned our stripes and are more than worthy of whatever we set our sights on and yet we still feel less than.  We believe that we might be more talented, more qualified, more capable, more efficient, more productive (I can go on and on) than our male colleagues but we still struggle to feel like we are worthy.

Last week I was out walking with one of my girlfriends – a working mom like me.  We were talking about our respective workplaces and the challenges we face as women and, in particular, women with children. Working mothers have the added challenge and pressure that is mostly self-imposed. We are perfectionists. Perfectionists who realize we cannot be perfect so we live in this constant state of underachievement. We disappoint ourselves and judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else ever would. Sure, we are constantly being pulled in multiple directions which leaves us feeling like we can never work hard enough to make sure that we are meeting the demands of every part of our lives. We are in a perpetual state of guilt. “I’m sorry” is a staple in our vocabulary. We are forever apologetic for actually doing more than most of the men in our lives do but not actually doing as much as we expect ourselves to do. Invariably, we feel like failures. This is not a new story for any working moms and it seems that, despite all the efforts that are put in place to create equality in the workplace and all the training and development offered to women to help them advance and all the time spent trying to help managers understand the complexities of trying to “balance” work and family obligations (not just for women, by the way), the problem never stops surfacing and the challenges never get easier.

Frankly, I don’t believe it is a workplace problem.  I think it is a societal problem. When my oldest son was just an infant, I attended a neighborhood block party and one of the moms, who did not work outside the home, asked me how I could possibly leave my child and return to work. I was startled by her comment because it was so rude and intrusive (I didn’t ask her how she could possibly stay at home and not provide financially for her family – an equally outrageous assertion) and because of how it was laced with so much judgment. I felt indicted. Everything I believed to be true was instantly in question and, despite the fact that I never once questioned whether or not I would return to work after my children came along, I suddenly had doubts about my choices. No one should have to feel that way. The problems only get worse as the children get older. Those of us who do work outside the home don’t necessarily have the same time to commit to school activities like plays and fundraisers and lunch aid duties and there is no shortage of guilt surrounding our absence – again mostly self-imposed.  (Well, the guilt can be fueled by some moms who constantly ask you why you never volunteer or offer the always delightful “Oh!  YOU’RE Tommy’s mom!”). If I am already programmed to feel bad about myself the minute I leave the house because I wrestling with the decisions I have made and worried about dividing my time between work and kids, I’m definitely starting off at a disadvantage.

But, take kids out of the equation. It is even bigger than that. We talk all the time about how girls are raised. Today, things are becoming different but we still live in a patriarchal world. And, even though women outnumber men obtaining degrees and they certainly outnumber men entering into the workforce, the air thins out substantially as you rise to more powerful perches. We are not demonstrating to women that they can be more. We are still struggling to teach girls how to stand up for themselves and feel empowered right next to the messages telling them to be sexy and cater to men. It is a constant struggle and I believe that we, as a gender, have evolved to become genetically hard-wired to not be confident when we are put in situations with men. We hand over power far too easily.  Yes, that might be a gross generalization but do the research. It’s all there. There are plenty of women who are powerful but I guarantee if you ask them what goes through their head, they, too, feel like frauds. They just do a much better job of covering it.

For me, personally, confidence comes and goes. Sometimes I walk around thinking I am the queen of the universe and have it all figured out and sometimes I am deep in a hole of self-doubt feeling voiceless and powerless against all around me. And, the struggle for me seems to get more difficult as time goes by.  I was certain that by the time my kids were old enough to walk home from school, tend to their homework without supervision and had cell phones to communicate with me that I would be able to exhale just a little bit. On the contrary, as my old boss at Working Mother magazine told me, way back when my youngest had just been born, the troubles only get worse. The demands only increase. The less your kids think they need you, the more they actually do. I couldn’t understand her point of view when I was struggling to get a full night of sleep tending to an infant and a preschooler but I never forgot her words. I knew implicitly that they would resonate for me at some point down the road. Today is that day.

I’m not sure what the bigger challenge is, frankly. First, the guilt over not being present enough or having the time or energy to commit as much as I would like to my mothering is omnipresent. Then, equally consuming is my inability to feel confident in how I am showing up at work. I just can’t get past the second-guessing, the emotional tug-of-war with my family and my inherent fear of being found out. I work with a guy who simply doesn’t care what people think. He’s polite and respectful enough when he needs to be but he pushes his way into situations when he believes he belongs there. I ask for permission. He makes a decision and deals with the repercussions afterwards. I ask for permission. He disregards other people’s expectations and does what he thinks is best. I ask for permission. He’s a foreign concept to me. I am probably really frustrating to him. Yet, we are both strong, smart, capable, experienced, accomplished, talented, visionary and, to different degrees, successful. He is confident. I ask for permission. When it comes time to stand up for myself, when the time is right for me to let my voice be heard, I am silent. I am fearful. I suffer a crisis of confidence.

When I was chatting with my friend last week, she shared her experience of self-doubt in her industry. I marveled at this because she has a PhD! She is as accomplished as anyone I have ever met. She is brilliant and savvy and has over 20 years of experience. What she told me was that she finally felt, after all the years in her industry, that she might now be taken seriously. All the degrees, all of the accomplishments and, at nearly 50 years old, she was just now beginning to feel confident enough to believe that she has the gravitas she deserves. And, if she were being completely candid, she would probably tell me that she doesn’t really have all the gravitas she thinks she deserves because she still has some self-doubt. It’s unbelievable to me and yet completely plausible.

While I always like to wrap things up with steps towards a solution, I really don’t have any in this case because it is a never-ending struggle. I take it day-by-day and situation-by-situation, hoping that it will only get easier over time. I know I have many reasons to be confident and often rely upon my husband to provide the male perspective and help me understand how my behavior might be perceived. Yet, theres on 12-step program to being a more confident female in the workplace or to being a better working mother. But, I have an awareness and sensitivity that hopefully makes me more aware of this for myself and others.

And, as everything always begins and ends with my kids because I am always a mother first, I reflect on a conversation with my younger son yesterday. My family was sitting together playing a game and it was clear that my younger son was about to lose. He looked around at us and very seriously said, “This makes sense. I would lose. I always lose. It fits me perfectly.” His face turned red and I wanted to throw up. I felt the pain emanating out of him and wanted to scoop him up and protect him from the world. “You are not a loser,” I said to him in the most comforting way I could. That boy is me and I knew exactly what was coursing through his brain. “You are confident and awesome.” He looked like he was going to cry and I knew he couldn’t feel my words. And I knew exactly what he felt like. He felt exactly how I feel when I am at work and am absolutely certain that I am making a mess of everything. I feel like a loser and I get to come home to him to remind me that I am confident and awesome.

THE SMALLEST THINGS


the smallest thingsThere are days that I am so caught up in the mayhem of my life that I surely forget to smell the proverbial flowers.  I get lost in the chaos, mired in the struggles, am devoured by the difficulties that surround me.  I can’t find my way to all the little things, the small miracles that make life so very wonderful.

Today was one of those days.  Difficult and overwhelming and then a surprise package came at the end that reminded me of how extraordinary the smallest things can be.

________________

A typical spring Friday night in my house means that there is lacrosse practice for my husband and older son and one or more other assorted events that has us roaming in various directions.  There are drop-offs and pick-ups and juggling meals and nothing that makes for a relaxing end of the week.  Tonight, my older son had an end-of-season basketball party while my husband had to go coach his team (minus my son and some of the other kids who also play basketball).  This left me in the unfortunate position of having to do drop-off and pick-up from the party while also having to feed and entertain my younger son.  And, as is typical for a Friday night for me, all I wanted to do was go up to bed, watch some TV and pass out.  I was wiped.  I had a plan.  I would drop off the older kid, make some dinner for the younger kid, sprawl out on the couch in the interim and then head back out to pick up the older kid.  My husband would fend for himself when he got home from practice because I would already be tucked away in bed.  However, my younger son had other ideas.

“Can we go out to dinner, please?”

“No, I’m too tired.”  I was in sweat pants and a t-shirt and was in no shape to be seen by the rest of the world.  My pink crocs, which I rarely display for anyone other than my immediate family, were glued to my feet.  I was not prepared for real clothes, makeup and putting on actual shoes.

“Pleeeease!  Just you and me, mommy.”

“No.  We can order a pizza.”  I figured that would put an end to this discussion.

“But I want to go out.  Please.”

I wasn’t sure what would be worse torture at that point.  Actually getting dressed, putting a brush through my hair and applying some makeup so I didn’t look quite as miserable and tired as I felt or listening to him whine about wanting to go out.  I relented.  It actually seemed like a better idea.  I would not have to cook and we could eat while my son was at his party and I would only have to go out once for the evening.  This was a plan I could live with.  Going out to dinner was, in fact, an easier plan and that was all I was striving for.

We dropped off the older boy at his party and the younger one and I headed to the diner.  We figured it would be crowded but we had time and we would make it work.

As the mother of a teenager, I spend a good deal of my time being reminded of how I am always wrong, how I don’t understand anything and how annoying I am.  When with my kids, I’m typically poised in a defensive position to deflect the barbs that are generally aimed my way.  No amount of reminding my son how disrespectful his comments might be, taking away his phone, preventing him from going out with his friends will ward off the biological disorder called adolescence that turns your once delightful child into a horrible beast.  I forget, sometimes, that I also have a 10-year old.  A child who can be challenging in his own right but is also an old soul who exudes more love and compassion than I have ever seen emanate from a single human being.  He has a perspective on the world that allows him to wander far beyond the typical selfish constructs of a tween and embrace a curiosity for humankind that amazes me.  While I sometimes might have labeled him as “manipulative” because he knows exactly how to turn on the charm when he needs to, I have come to realize that he has a genuine gift for knowing exactly the right things to say and do at exactly the right times.  He is tuned in.  He is connected.  He feels things.  And I am in awe of him.

And, tonight, as if on cue, he decided to bring me deeper into his world.  He decided to share with me the inner workings of his mind.  He opened himself up to me in a way I would expect to find with an adult.  He appreciated and valued our time together and explained to me why it was so important that he and I have dinner together – just the two of us.  His was not just a plan to eat outside the house.  He needed to connect.

So, there I am sitting across the table from my round-faced, freckled boy who entered this world a short 10 years, 3 months and 4 days ago.  The boy who has stubbornly refused to subscribe to any philosophy that I may have foisted upon him and chose to figure out what makes the world spin all on his own.  He is quietly brilliant, remarkably charming and will go to the ends of the earth to get a good laugh out of you.  He, himself, loves to smile and giggle and gets such great joy out of seeing others amused.  There I was with my boy who has struggled through all of 4th grade.  The boy who left school last June with a light shining so brightly after having overcame immense challenges with reading and writing.  This year, we saw him go from loving school to dreading taking tests and worrying that he would disappoint us.  My boy, who seemed to be heading down a dismal path of academic failure for reasons no one could understand, had something to tell me.  He needed me to know that all was not lost.  He needed to use that powerful invisible tether that connects mother and child to reassure me that he was ok and reinforce the direct line into his brain.

Tonight we sat together and talked.  He started by asking me what big amazing thing I wanted to see happen in the world.  I wasn’t sure if he was referencing an end to world hunger or the invention of a TV you could control with your mind. I looked at him quizzically and he said, “let me tell you what I am hoping for.  A real bionic man.”  I was intrigued because I had never heard him talk about anything like this before.  He went on to tell me how amazing it would be for someone to be able to do things they might have either lost the power to do (like having lost a leg or an arm) or never was able to do before (such as run a marathon when they found jogging too hard).  He wanted to give people a new chance with their lives so they could go on to do good things for other people.

Wow.  OK, I thought perhaps I might have to have his DNA checked because he was far too selfless to have sprung from my loins.

He went on to ask me about my business and provide his thoughts on how we might be successful.  He praised me for all the hard work we had done and told me how proud he was of me.  I had to catch my breath.  What was happening here?

We sat together for 90 minutes.  No phones, no handheld games, no distractions.  Just him and I.  We talked about what he liked and disliked about school and he shared with me all he was learning about Anne Frank and the Holocaust and about the Boston Tea Party.  He showcased his grammatical skills by telling me the differences between “they’re,” “their,” and “there” and “two,” “too,” and “to”.  I was over the moon.  He prattled on and on, engaging me in philosophical discussions about trying to invent teleporting – “Mommy, you could set your watch to have coffee with Tim in Kansas City at 3pm and when the time comes you will just be there to see him.  And then you can come home and have dinner with me.  Wouldn’t that be great?”  Oh yes, my extraordinary boy, it sure would.  And I believe you can make it happen.

He told me how, when he’s 30, he would come to pick me up and take me out to dinner.  “I can’t wait to do that for you, mommy.”  And, together we came up with the premise for a book about a superhero named Incognito who gained the power of invisibility while working as a scientist in a lab.  While trying to solve global warming, he interacted with a chemical that knocked him out.  When he awoke and stood up to see if he was bruised, he realized he could not see his reflection in the mirror.  And, he realized that he was not a vampire but, instead, he was incognito.  And then we talked about what it would be like to be able to become invisible in certain tough situations.

I sat across from my son during our meal and marveled at the words coming out of his mouth.  I wondered why I had not heard half of it before.  Was I not paying attention?  Did I not give him enough attention?  Was he constantly being overpowered by his older sibling?  I realized that some of it was new for him.  Some it was just finally forming into thoughts in his head.  And, some of it came out because the time was right.  He needed to have some alone time, away from the house, away from the rest of the family.  Some time just with me to share with me that he was doing great.  To show me that the world was opening up in his mind and now he loved to read, fancied himself a writer and had a newfound passion for history. “I’m pretty good at math too, mommy, but it’s not my best.” He wanted to share all the things that were stirring around in his mind with the person he felt he could most trust with it.  His mommy.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to smile as wide as my mouth could stretch or cry tears of joy.  All I knew for every moment of those 90 minutes was that I was grateful that I have this boy.  I love his big brother too but I know it will be a while before he’s coming back from Iamthemostimportantpersoninthewholewideworld Land and I won’t get opportunities like this with for a long time, if ever.  I was grateful to hear all the wonderful things floating around in his head and having the reassurance that he had not lost his spark.  I was grateful to hear about his passions that also happened to match some of mine.  I was most grateful for the fact that he is a beautiful, healthy, happy, kind and loving person.  And he is my child.  My blessing.  My gift.  I felt so very fortunate to have someone so extraordinary in my life.  I was grateful for the happy accident that we ended up together alone at dinner.  I was grateful for the small little things that made this night so unbelievably magical.

As dinner was ending – and I was sad to see it our little bubble burst – we chatted a little bit more about our plans for the weekend and he said, almost out of nowhere, “We need to do this more often, mommy.”  I smiled and nodded my head.  Yes we do, for sure.  And then, we got up, paid the check and walked outside.  I was beaming with pride and felt so joyful as I put my arm around his shoulder and he tucked his arm around my back.  “I’m so proud of you, buddy.  You are growing up to be such an amazing person.”  He was smiling and feeling proud and then said, “You did a good job raising me.”  And, I was done.  I laughed, embraced the moment and knew he was right.

THE DAY IT ALL BEGAN TO CHANGE


anne-lamott-quoteWalking around my bucolic little town, you can’t help but notice that everyone is getting younger.  Once upon a time, my husband and I were the young couple attending Sunday Open Houses in an attempt to find the perfect home within which we would build our family. In those days we were self-conscious of our youth, feeling less relevant because we had yet to start the march towards raising a family. I felt invisible until, suddenly, I too was pushing around a stroller with my precious cargo ensconced within swaddled blankets and beanies. Suddenly, I had a purpose in this town and I was not part of the infrastructure.

That feels like a lifetime ago because now I find myself becoming irrelevant once again. My womb will not produce any more offspring – the factory doors have closed, the manufacturing line has been permanently laid off and there will be no jobs returning. Despite the fact that I have been part of the system for nearly 17 years, my role has been taken over by a younger, thinner, hipper version. One who will have the top of the line designer Bugaboo or the least invasive, most productive breast pump to suckle every last drop of milk for their precious infant. I’m no longer part of that conversation. Sure, I am way hip when it comes to talking about financial aid forms and SAT prep classes but that is about as unsexy as Rockport sandlas.

Recently, while sitting in the nail salon getting my aging hands – showing signs of wear and tear and wrinkled knuckles – manicured, I glanced around me and saw a remarkably large number of pregnant women, their perfectly blossoming bellies stretching their shirts tight around the; their young skin glowing from the wealth of nutrients in their pregnancy diets.  When had this hostile takeover occurred? When was I exiled to the middle-aged crowd who needed to be the designated driver on deck for the gaggle of teenagers who would certainly not be drinking illegally at the home of a child whose parents were trying to have an adult evening of their own.How did I become part of the older set?  With a burgeoning teenager and my youngest turning double digits this year, those days of early motherhood are more than a distant memory.  It has been nearly a full decade since the miracles of conception and childbirth were a regular part of my consciousness.  Nowadays, I look at my boys and struggle to remember them as helpless infants.  I have to stretch my mind to flash back to the flailing arms that accompanied shrieks as they lay in their cribs willfully resisting sleep or alerting me of their need to eat or be changed.  I can barely imagine myself a young woman, starting my journey of motherhood.  However, I do reminisce about those early days, sitting in the rocking chair in the nursery, looking deeply into the eyes of my small babies, searching to find what lay inside their souls.  I wondered who they would turn out to be.  I worried about how I would ever be able to love them enough and keep them safe.  I had no idea what a mother is capable of.Of course, with the exception of my children, who are maturing at quite the rapid clip.  Yesterday, sitting in the nail salon, getting my aging hands, showing signs of wear and tear and wrinkled knuckles, manicured, I glanced around me and saw a remarkably large number of pregnant women, their bellies stretching their shirts tight around them, their young skin glowing from the wealth of nutrients in their pregnancy diets.  Where had they all come from?  How did I become part of the older set?  With a burgeoning teenager and my youngest turning double digits this year, those days of early motherhood are more than a distant memory.  It has been nearly a full decade since the miracles of conception and childbirth were a regular part of my consciousness.  Nowadays, I look at my boys and struggle to remember them as helpless infants.  I have to stretch my mind to flash back to the flailing arms that accompanied shrieks as they lay in their cribs willfully resisting sleep or alerting me of their need to eat or be changed.  I can barely imagine myself a young woman, starting my journey of motherhood.  However, I do reminisce about those early days, sitting in the rocking chair in the nursery, looking deeply into the eyes of my small babies, searching to find what lay inside their souls.  I wondered who they would turn out to be.  I worried about how I would ever be able to love them enough and keep them safe.  I had no idea what a mother is capasandals

When my older son was born, after 16 hours of induced labor and a wildly unpleasant emergency c-section, I slowly emerged from recovery after having fallen unconscious from trying to endure the not-quite anesthetized-enough surgery.  As my eyes cracked open in the darkness of the recovery room and I saw the shadows of the pediatrician coming in to talk to me and the nurses checking in on me, I began to feel my heart swell and my anxiety rise.  The reality was settling in and, all at once, I was exuberant and overwhelmed.  All I wanted was this baby.  We struggled through infertility for several years before finally taking aggressive action.  On the cold February day in 2000, as I lay on my back on the table with my legs elevated, listening to Diana Ross singing “Baby Love” over the small tinny speaker in the procedure room at the Diamond Institute just a mile from my home, I knew that the doctors’ predictions were wrong.  They warned me that there had only been one egg detected after pumping me up with Clomid for a few weeks and giving me a big fat shot to release whatever was produced.  One egg would likely not be enough to create a child.  One egg would not make me a mother.  One egg would not help me begin my healing process and right the wrongs of my own childhood.  One egg would not afford me the opportunity to do things differently.  But, I knew they were wrong.  I knew one egg was all I would need to be given the gift I prayed for every night.  One egg and the fertility stones that I had placed under my pillow for weeks leading up to this day.  As I watched all my friends become pregnant and give birth to their precious angels I knew I would not be robbed of this.  I had faith that I would not suffer yet another indignity.  Nothing had gone the way it was supposed to for me but this would.  This would work.

As I lay on that table in the darkened room and heard the Supremes sing, I knew it was a sign.  And, 10 days later when I felt my breasts aching in a way they never had before and I snuck out to buy a pregnancy test even though I had been warned that it could offer a false negative that might dash my hopes, I knew my miracle was growing inside me.  I had faith.  I believed in my destiny.  And, sure enough there were two lines.  There were two lines indicating that I could change the course of my own history.  Two lines equalling joy beyond my wildest imagination.

I was 32.  So young.  Such a baby myself.  I had been married for 6 years and still felt like a newlywed.  We had all the trappings of a traditional life.  We had bought a fixer-upper and started fixing upping.  We broke down walls and renovated the bathroom and kitchen.  We picked out pretty colors for the walls and bought furniture to turn our house into a home.  We spent long weekends tackling home improvement projects – we built a fence, pulled out shrubs, planted flowers.  We steamed off wallpaper, installed moldings and painted walls.  I read home improvement magazines and imagined creating a life that would discreetly mask my former self.  My old life, my trauma, my scars would be hidden behind apple green walls and refinished floors.  Then, we would complete the picture by making us three.  We would have little clothes, toys, strollers, bottles.  We would be whole – unabridged.  All of the markings of a healthy, normal family.

As my stomach swelled and I could feel the hard eggshell protecting the little growing fetus inside me I began to tackle the emotional realities of what was happening.  New fears surfaced as I marked the weeks off on the calendar.  The larger my stomach grew the more crystallized my anxieties became.  How would I know what to do with this baby?  I had no role models.  I had no ecosystem.  There were no grandparents or aunts and uncles who would come to my rescue when I sat alone sobbing, wondering how to care for my child.  No parenting book explained how to raise a healthy child when you grew up in a dysfunctional, abusive family and your husband had the same shitty childhood as you.  Who had blazed this path before me?  So, I went to therapy.  I started expelling my fears to someone whom I felt could guide me.  She would not be there in the late nights when I sat awake, riddled with anxiety but, as I got closer to that fall day when I would meet my son for the first time, she helped me to face my fears, to understand their foundation, to accept them and try to move past them.  She started me on the journey of looking under the hood.  She validated my worries and assured me that I would be able to raise a child, even if I was still one myself.

When I was moved from the recovery area into the hospital room where I would get to know my son, I anxiously awaited his arrival in my arms.  I vaguely recalled, moments after his birth, him being placed next to my head allowing me to take a quick look at him through tear-filled eyes.  I remembered a weary sense of disbelief that this 8 lb., 9 oz. package of love was mine.  I was weak from the labor and surgery and could barely comprehend what was happening.  Now, hours later when I was rested, filled with the right dosage of painkillers to keep my aches at bay and my alertness intact, I was ready to soak him in.  I was all set to meet him and let him know how much I already loved him.  I was prepared to commit to him that I would never hurt him in the way I had been hurt.  I would push past my own troubles and fears and make sure he felt safe, loved, protected, adored, admired, confident.  I wanted to make that vow straight away so the first message he heard was the one I never received.

I sat up in my bed as they rolled him in and expectantly placed my arms out, ready to receive him.  I had paid close attention in my childbirth and parenting classes and knew where to place my hands to secure his fragile neck, hardly strong enough to support that oversized head.  That head that started swelling as he was making his way into the world, preventing him from entering through the traditional door.  That sweet little head that was simply too big to make its way through my surprisingly narrow birth canal.  I looked at him all swaddled up in the blanket and could not wait to pull him close.  I had held so many babies in recent years, meeting my friends’ children in hospital rooms, picking them up out of their cribs, changing their diapers to get some experience.  But, each time, I handed them back.  I could not ensconce them in my arms and keep them there to love and dote on for days on end.  As he made his descent into my arms, I breathed in, taking in his unique, sweet scent.  That smell that all mothers innately recognize.  The scent that serves as a biological call for procreation.  The hypnotic, intoxicating aroma that, if bottled, would create billions for a manufacturer and have nations filled with perpetually pregnant women.

For hours my son and I snuggled in my bed.  He slept on my chest and served as aloe, as a salve to ease my pain.  The wound of the incision that enabled him to breathe his first breath was beginning to throb but his speedy little heartbeat against mine overpowered the discomfort.  I resisted all offers to let him go, except to briefly pass him to my husband.  Although my strong partner was elated at the sight of his first son, he was cautious.  He was hesitant.  He was unsure.  Despite his obvious joy as he looked at his offspring, he lacked the confidence and certainty to know what to do with him.  He willingly and gratefully handed him back to me to lead the way.  All I had was my instinct.  My pure animalistic desire to care for and love this baby.  I struggled to feed him, using my god-given tools and relented after days, finally placing a bottle to his mouth, putting his health and well-being ahead of my frustration and determination to successfully breastfeed.  In my mind, I had already failed by not being able to deliver him naturally.  Now, only 48 hours later, I was already stacking up my disappointments as a mother as my son failed to latch on and get his nourishment from me.  He was already breaking away.  He was finding comfort in places other than me.  Our 9-month honeymoon in paradise, our private sanctuary where only he and I existed was now over.

On the day before we left the hospital to finally embark on our new journey as a family,  I placed my son on my lap in my bed so that I could study his face, inspect his body.  We were alone in the room for a while and I took advantage of the solitude to decadently stare down at him.  Finally, the emotions of it all took over and I cried.  As the large wet tears fell from my eyes, I could see them drip onto my child’s head.  I wondered if this was a symbolic exchange –  a transference of sorts.  I couldn’t help but wonder if these tears I shed would release me from the pain of my own troubled childhood and, upon touching his skin, allow me to heal through him.  Hours later, my son was still nestled on me as I spoke on the phone with my friend Joe, my closest friend, and the other man in my life who had spent the last 15 years with me, watching me go from a tortured teenager to this.  We reflected, in awe, in disbelief, of my unlikely path to here.  He comforted me from 3,000 miles away, through the phone line, assuring me that I could do this; sending me on my way with a small set of tools – a starter set – to aid me in my journey.

Today, as the weather reminds me of the coming seasonal changes, as the leaves begin dropping and the colors shift from bright summer pastels to the rich autumn hues that I so naturally gravitate towards, I can almost smell the air on the day we placed our son in the backseat of our SUV, pulling out from the hospital that we would return to retrieve our next miracle just 3 years later.  I can see the trees that lined the winding road that led us to our home.  On that day, I looked out the window as I kept my hand firmly placed on top of his, feeling his breathing and assuring him that I would always be there – that he would always feel me near him.  I looked down at his eyes, still shut tight.  The same eyes that I now have to look up to see.  The eyes that smile at me even when he tries so hard to pretend he doesn’t care.  The same eyes that plead for me to help him even when he tries to be strong and brave.  The eyes that looked up at me and told me, without any doubt, that I would always have love in my life.

As the colors rushed by and the car sped home, I knew, for sure, I was a mother and nothing would ever be the same.