Thursday, October 6, 2016

Her little hand pops out of the water to wave at me. She wants to make sure I had seen her back float. Her goggles are all fogged up, making her eyes appear larger and buggier than normal. Her ponytail is slicked back and flyaway hairs are matted to her face. She grins broadly when I give her the double thumbs up sign.

Right now, she craves my attention. “Mommy, I want to show you how to play this game…” “Mommy, come read with me…” “Mommy, look what I made…” And most of the time, I am patient. Even if I’m in the middle of washing the dishes or cleaning up (a million) crumbs from the kitchen floor, I pause what I’m doing to acknowledge her. Because I know that despite my current title of “Best Mommy in the entire galaxy—not just the planet” (she actually said that to me yesterday), this time is fleeting. Maybe not fleeting as in gone next week, next month, or even next year, but in just a few years, she’ll be beyond this. She’ll crave the attention of her peers instead. And while I’m sure she’ll secretly appreciate me rooting for her on the sidelines, one day she’ll no longer search for my face in the crowd to make sure I’m paying attention. Which is totally normal; I wouldn’t expect her to…but still. For all the people constantly telling me to “Enjoy this time—it goes by so fast!”, I.KNOW. I know. Wasn’t she just learning how to walk? Toddling across the hardwood floor, completely unsure of herself? I get it.

Tonight I helped her practice multiplication even though they’re still focused on addition and subtraction in second grade. She loves math (and I never did), so I figure we might as well get a head start and continue to encourage her early on. (Side note: I failed long division. Miserably). She was doing really well but ended up getting a wrong answer for one of the problems. Maybe because it was late at night and she had reached her limit, but her beautiful hazel eyes filled with tears as she put her head down on the table and cried “I can’t get anything right!” In that moment, I saw her baby face shining through, flushed cheeks and all, and pulled her onto my lap. I half rocked her and smoothed her hair, told her that she was so smart and that she had done an awesome job. She settled down after a moment (I think I did or said something that made her laugh) and finished the rest of the problems without any issues.

My baby girl is almost seven. Some days she is completely independent, going off with her friends, reading by herself, teaching Liam about the world…but some days she still needs me. For reassurance, for support, for compassion. I guess I’m just hopeful that the foundation we’re building now will keep the lines of communication open in the not so distant future. When she thinks she’s ready to take on the world (aren’t all 14-year-olds?) but perhaps realizes she’s not quite strong enough yet. When her innocent mind comes to the realization that not all people have good intentions. That kids can be mean. When she fails a test because she doesn’t understand the material as well as she thought she did.

Parenting can be really hard. You don’t always know what to say or how to say it. What we say (and what we *don’t* say) can affect our kids for years to come. Being absent also speaks volumes. No pressure, right? But I think as long as our heart is in the right place and we’re “on” about 90 percent of the time, we’re doing it right. So, hopefully, I’ll continue to be the “Best Mommy in the Galaxy” for at least a few more years to come.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Lately Ash has been asking a lot of questions about dying, about what happens to our bodies when we die, and if we're reborn, will she have the same family? (Cue the tears: "But if I'm born again into another family, won't I forget that I ever had you?" which I thought was a pretty deep question for a six-year-old.) A while back when she was maybe 3 or 4, we told her that most people live a very long time, until they're about 100. But recently she learned that her Grandpa Lynn died at age 52 because he was very sick and now it seems that she's been seeking meaning to every song and even reading between the lines of lyrics. When she heard the song "Centuries", she asked Jeff how long a century was and then later on at bedtime she said that 100 years isn't long enough, that she doesn't want to die. I said, "But the whole point of life is to enjoy each moment, to make lasting memories, to love your family and spend time with your friends." She bawled, "But we only get oneeeeee..." When she heard the song "Seven Years" in the car the other day, she said "Mommy, you're not anywhere near 60, right?" Her little brain is trying to take in and process so much but it's *so hard* to answer all of her raw and honest questions when we don't have all of the answers. Half the time, I'm not even sure I'm saying the right thing or putting her mind anywhere near at ease.

And night after night, she's been having bad dreams. It seems like she just can't shake this from her subconscious. One night I went in there when she was crying and asked what's wrong. "I had a dream that Daddy was kissing us for the last time." "Where?" I asked. "In bed." Then, "Daddy believes you can be born again. What do you believe?" I told her that I'm not sure, but that I'd like to think our spirit can find its way back here to live again. That's when she uttered her heartbreaking, "But if I'm born again into another family, won't I forget that I ever had you? I don't want another mommy and daddy. I want youuuuuuuu...."). A few nights later she started crying shortly after she went to bed. I went in there and asked what was wrong. She started again with "I never got to meet my Grandpa Lynn." I told her that I'm sure he loves her and that he would love to have met her too. "But how do you know? Can he see me? Is he sitting right there?" Uggghhhhh. Then she said "I had a dream. Daddy came to pick us up and you weren't there. And then you never came back again." More crying. I said, "How did you know I never came back?" "Because you weren't there and then a week went by and you still weren't..." How do you reassure your kids without being dishonest? I mean, we all know that we can't promise them we'll be there tomorrow. We may SAY it, but no one really knows for sure what's going to happen each day. It just breaks my heart to see her so worked up about these issues that are so far out of her control.

I did some research online because of course I understand that kids are naturally curious about death and I expected to have the conversation at some point, but I guess I didn't think she would have *so* many questions. It seems like most kids ask a lot of basic questions but then quickly move on. Ashlyn, however, has one question after another: "What are our options when we die? What happens to our bodies? Did Grandma have to move after Grandpa died? What did they do with his body?" The saddest part was when she said "When you and Daddy are gone, the only one left with me will be Liam" and I had a lump in my throat because even that's not a given. I don't want to think about it, but the fact that he is younger doesn't necessarily mean he will be there when she's 100 and he's 97 (and I say that because I literally can't bear to think of them dying any younger than that). Parenting is hard enough, but when you are responsible for making your child feel safe and secure and you aren't successful, that is truly the worst. I wish I had the answers to make her little brain shut off each night. I wish I could tell her what happens when we die...where we go...that we are reunited with people that we love...that we never feel pain or sickness or hurt again...that we have the same mommy, daddy and brother in the next life, if there is one...that we are okay without our physical body because it's the spirit that truly makes us who we are. ("But if I am born into someone else, then I'm not really me? Or am I me, but a different version of me?") I swear, she blows me away. I almost feel like she has already lived a former life due to the depth of her questioning and her ability to ask and understand these concepts beyond her short time here on Earth.

I know we all want to protect our kids from the harsh reality of life. We want to save them from the first harsh comment or criticism from their peers, we want to shield them from the tough choices they will eventually have to make, we want to hug them and tell them that they are safe and sound and always will be. But we can't always promise these things. What we can do is hug them and say, "You know, I'm not really sure what will happen, but I love you so much and we are here together right now--let's make every day count." I'm just happy to know that she trusts me enough to want my opinion even when I tell her I don't have all the answers. I don't shut down the conversation or laugh off her concerns; I openly talk to her, stroke her hair and do the best I can to explain life and death as we know it. There is no script for this. I don't even remember asking my own parents about it (although when I did, I am almost positive it wasn't as in depth or emotional for me). I'm not sure if everything I say is right or accurate, but at least she knows she can come to me at any time, with any question or concern, and I will be there for her. We brought her into this world and it's our responsibility to explain how it works when we know and explain that a lot of the world is a mystery to us. I just hope that her life is full of enough joy to make the unknown worthwhile. And that's the only thing that I *can* control.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Currently playing: Chanticleer's version of Ave Maria, the same version we performed my sophomore year in Chorus at Masuk High School.

During my freshman year at Masuk, I was completely blown away by my Chorus teacher, Mr. Gangi. He had such a presence; a way of speaking to us as if we were already adults living in the real world and not merely "trapped" within the constraints of our high school walls. He was also an extraordinarily talented conductor, had a beautiful tenor voice himself and taught us a lot about life, mindfulness and leadership through breathing techniques and other exercises (including a trust walk around the school grounds).

One day we entered the auditorium (all 150 of us) and he told us to find a place on the ground anywhere--in the aisles, between the seats, on the stage, etc.--and then he turned out all of the lights. Lying down, eyes on the ceiling, he told us to close our eyes and imagine that we were on a beach, lying on warm sand. You could have heard a pin drop. He walked around the room softly, occasionally speaking, "Imagine you are sinking into the sand. You can feel the warmth of it surrounding you. You hear the water lapping gently at the shore." This went on for about ten minutes until we were all there mentally, and then he said, "Now...let's sing Kyrie eleison." And from our positions on the floor, completely flat on our backs, we began to sing the most poignant version of Kyrie eleison I have heard to this day.

There are times when I wish I could go back and recapture those moments. Thankfully, even then I realized how lucky I was. I never took those five hours a week for granted. I made lasting friendships many...and learned so much about who I am and who I would eventually become. I was exposed to a variety of amazing composers and works: from Rachmaninoff to Mendelssohn and Carmina Burana to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." While life may have felt stressful during the day for any given reason, Chorus was the place where I felt like I could honestly let go and give everything I had.

I can vividly see myself sitting on the stage in my overalls and Doc Martens learning a new piece...playing Tori Amos on Gangi's piano in the Chorus Room during study hall...figuring out the pitch pipe when I became Section leader of the Alto 1A's...and hammering my neighbor's back and participating in several vocal warm-ups at the beginning of each class. At the time, I remember feeling that life was so complicated (my journal entries are so dramatic, I barely know how I made it through each day) but obviously I had never experienced anything truly significant or traumatic at that point. I would give anything to relive just one day with that seemingly carefree and truly present attitude.

I'm sure there's a way to incorporate pieces of this mindfulness back into my life. It definitely helps to write about the memory and listen to the concerts that my parents recorded, but what I am really trying to get at is that feeling of peace...of sinking into warm sand, of focusing on breathing instead of stress and worry. I have actually come a long way in the past month--I've started refocusing on my own needs including running, re-joining Weight Watchers, and trying to take moments to reflect and think and write (or even read for pleasure) whenever possible. I feel like there's a way to incorporate music into this as well, whether it's joining a choir or fitting it in someplace else. More thoughts to come.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Patience. Lately I haven't had much of it. With myself, with my kids,with random people on the road, with virtually anything. I've been more aggravated, more stressed, more...rushed. And I am truly tired of feeling this way. It's exhausting. I want to be more in control of my day-to-day life. I want to be organized, relaxed, healthy and happy. And I am pieces of those things at any given time, but my ideal self is only realized when these traits all coexist.

A lot of it comes down to time. Well, time, organization and prioritization, but they're all related. I really, *really* need to get better at prioritizing. I try and take on too much in every aspect of my life. And when I take something on, I never put in minimal effort; I am generally all in. I respond to people quickly, I say yes too often, I most likely over-extend myself even before I realize what I'm doing. And then comes the paralysis. When I have so many projects/tasks/chores/plans/fill in the blank, etc., that I literally sit there, paralyzed, trying to figure out what to handle first. And then I continue to sit there staring blankly, attempting to organize my thoughts and write lists, sometimes to no avail, because it's too overwhelming. And that wastes a considerable amount of valuable time...time that I desperately need to be productive and successful.

And yet, somehow I am relatively successful. I do get things done, and I get them done well. But there has to be a way to be successful without feeling constantly tense or on edge. For me personally, running helps relieve some of that tension because I have time to clear my head, listen to music and do something beneficial for myself (the healthy trait above). BUT again, many times I find that I can't/don't make the time for running even though I truly believe it helps me focus and refocus. Why is that? Why do we find time for certain things and not others? Why are there always certain elements of our life that slide when we're feeling stressed or unbalanced? I want to take the time to figure this out because I truly think it will help my daily mindset moving forward.

I was talking to a colleague this week and she told me she recently started taking ten minutes out of her day to just lie down and breathe. I'll be the first to admit that I have never practiced meditation or taken a yoga class, but this sounds like a worthwhile use of time. But first I need to learn how to clear my head because I think entirely too much. About everything. I overthink. I analyze. I beat myself up over minor setbacks, both physical and mental. So in those ten minutes, I need to learn NOT to think of all the emails I could respond to in that time, of the laundry that needs to be folded or the kids' lunches that need to be made. I literally need to schedule time in my day, even if it's just ten minutes, to relax, to refocus. Because right now I don't feel like I'm reaching my full potential since it always feels like something has to give. I feel like I'm trying to hold onto and handle so many juggling parts that it's nearly impossible. I also realize that I am my own harshest critic, so there's that, but if I feel this strongly about all of this, there has to be an underlying issue that I can proactively learn how to fix.

This fall, I plan on being present, being mindful, being focused. I want to feel more like I am living each moment as opposed to rushing through it to get to the next place/reach the next deadline/check the box. If anyone has any tips or wants to share their thoughts, I am more than open to them. Thank you for listening.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Watching: the flickering light of my fireplace. Listening: to Bon Iver. Trying to reclaim that carefree feeling of non-routine life that can only come from time and distance away. Away from 5 a.m. wake- ups, the 10-hour work day, and just generally 7,600 miles away from home.

I recently returned from a trip to India. I didn't expect to, but I feel like I experienced an entire lifetime in those ten days. There were many firsts: a memorable visit to the Taj Mahal, receiving henna (already rapidly fading away), attending three days of Indian wedding ceremonies, dancing in a bharat, witnessing poor children from the slums jump in and out of traffic begging for food, driving through seven lanes of traffic with no real rhyme or reason...just horns blasting, cows, pigs, rickshaws and pedestrians entering the mix and somehow everyone just knowing their place.

A beautiful sunrise on the train ride to Agra...the blazing sun making its hazy orange mark on the horizon, shedding light on the pretty landscape that's occasionally marred by mountains of garbage. People staring listlessly as the train rushes by, seemingly lost in their own thoughts. Using the train tracks as makeshift bathrooms because they have no other choice. It's hard to ignore the abject poverty, but at the same time, there are so many layers of life in the country. People are everywhere. Carrying piles of wood on bicycles, getting a shave on the street corner, standing or running behind fresh fruit carts, congregating in front of shopping malls and open markets.

We took quite a few taxi rides during our visit. Each time I grabbed the video camera because watching the bustle of life unfold around you when you have the time and focus is amazing. There have been few occasions when I've been as immersed in a culture. Usually I have a thousand responsibilities and don't allow myself to take it all in, but this trip was different. I let myself experience everything as it happened. Mopeds scooting by with Indian women in saris riding side-saddle...boys playing a quick game of cricket in a dirt field...stray dogs roaming up and down the sidewalks and in the middle of the streets...

Music also played an integral role on this trip. The drum beats; the ethereal Indian tones carrying over a Delhi thunderstorm as heard from my dark hotel room; the sassy, pop Bollywood songs played at the Sangeet (that all of the young, beautiful Indian girls and guys knew the lyrics and moves to); the haunting religious chants piped through the air over the gardens across from the Taj.

And of course I wouldn't have even made the journey if it weren't for my family. I was there for my brother-in-law's wedding so there were many evenings full of conversation, wine, beer and traditional Indian food. Things I am thankful for: the comfortable feeling of the high-rise overlooking the city, the invaluable time I was able to spend with my two-year-old nephew, the thoughtful gifts I received: one pink, blue and gold dress that my brother's mother-in-law picked out for me that made me feel beautiful.

I'm not sure why the trip left such a lasting impression on me other than the fact that it was so rich and full of all of the above: color, music, vitality, love, family and dynamic experiences. I truly feel changed for the better after visiting India, like it left an impression on me and has slightly changed my perspective and perception of life here. I found it to be eye-opening and raw but parts of it were also muted, soft and beautiful. I love the fact that I was able to take it all in with an open mind and just BE for once, instead of going, going, going. In writing this, I almost felt transported back to that state of mind which feels good. I need to get to that place more often, and I think this trip has helped me learn how to meditate, how to truly exist and see what's around me. And for that, I am grateful.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

I don't generally do New Year's resolutions, but there are a few things I would like to focus on in 2015. First, I want to write more, so I am starting with this blog post. To me, writing comes naturally and is very therapeutic but I rarely have enough time to create what I would consider quality writing. I need to make the time. In fact, making the time to do things is going to play an essential role in completing all of my goals this year. Last year I constantly felt pulled in a thousand different directions between my career, taking care of Ash and Liam, being a supportive wife and friend, staying healthy (eating well and running) and staying on top of things organizationally (like getting the kids signed up for various activities without missing deadlines, which rarely happened). I felt like my life was out of balance. While I put a lot of effort into everything I did, I had such high expectations of myself that I constantly felt like I was missing the mark which, in turn, made me more stressed. My body and mind were exhausted and I couldn't keep my eyes open past 9:00 at night. I even went to the doctor to see if the Lyme disease from the previous summer could still possibly be in my system but she said it was all just due to physical issues were present. I think sorting through my thoughts with writing on a regular basis will help me immensely.

And of course everyone always says they want to lose weight/go to the gym at the start of the new year. Not to jump on that bandwagon, but count me in. For all of 2015, not just the month of January. Feeling good about myself physically and mentally is incredibly important to me and currently I can't remember the last time I had the "time" (there it is again) to go running. It might have been back in October. The obstacles I've encountered in getting to the gym are legitimate; I am not merely making excuses because I don't want to go. There's school drop-off/pick-up on the days I work at home and I leave the house at 6 a.m. on the days I work in Hartford. The only chance I have to spend time with Ashlyn and Liam during the week is dinner, bath and bedtime so I certainly don't want to leave them for an hour to go and work out. By the time Ash is in bed at 8, the last thing I have energy for is running. I need to figure out how to schedule gym time during my work day again, and possibly one weekend day. That should be manageable and I will feel a lot better about myself. I have about eight pounds I'd like to lose but I'm not in a huge rush...all progress is welcome.

I would also like to work on being more present. Everyone knows that I love social media...reading news and articles on Twitter, keeping up with my friends, posting photos (and yes, selfies!), etc. But several of the articles and blogs I've read recently talk about living in the moment, putting down the phone and focusing on who you're with and what they're saying. For the most part, I am not rude about this. I don't keep my phone open during dinner or when I'm out, but I'll admit that occasionally I'll scroll through my news feed when the kids are watching a movie and I won't always catch a question or comment that they pose to me. I don't want to be like that. I want them to remember me as always there for them, playing on the floor, laughing whole-heartedly and truly listening to everything they have to say. I am trying to decide if this means I should also post less on social but I haven't fully figured this out yet. People make fun of me--well, tease I guess is a more appropriate word--for how much I choose to share, that I am "always" on Facebook and that I post too much. I think that this is all subjective. I get that my posts don't resonate with everyone but I love the connection that I feel with people by sharing and interacting with the material, so it will be an interesting experiment to try and keep my phone/computer at an arm's length.

If I'm being completely honest, I suppose my love of social media is tied to my desire to feel appreciated and to have my efforts validated. How those "likes", "favorites" and "retweets" prove that my thoughts are worthwhile, that people understand and *get* me. I have always been this way to an extent. I want people to like me (obviously) and career-wise, I want people to note that I put 110% into a project or that my efforts resulted in a successful outcome. When/if this doesn't happen, I take it too personally and allow myself to get completely wrapped up in thoughts of disappointment guessed it...more stress. I have to work on this as well. I am not a perfectionist by any means, but I take what I do seriously in every aspect of my life and sometimes I have to recognize that it's okay to be a little less serious.

So obviously I have some work to do during the next twelve months. I want to practice patience and continue to exhibit compassion. I want to be present and engaged. I want to continue to work hard but to remember that balance is even more important. I will get to the gym more. I will drink less wine (this is mainly due to my caloric intake!) I think this will be easier to manage once I feel more balanced and less stressed. I truly believe that writing will help with all of this. So I plan on blogging more and really analyzing my thoughts and feelings to become a better person. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The problem with writing is that I love it too much to do it half-assed. There are days when I write entire blog posts in my head while driving to work or playing with the kids on the floor, but they never make it to the page. There are other days when I open up this site, pour a glass of wine and *contemplate* writing but then realize I have no direction to my thoughts or nothing relevant to say at that particular moment. This doesn't mean I am not constantly thinking because I am...all the time. While making the kids' lunches, while walking to the mailbox, while drifting off to sleep. I mostly think about people. I don't waste time worrying about politics or events that are occurring halfway across the world because they are out of my control. Instead, I spend most of my life focusing on the people I care about (and there are many). I try and make their lives inherently better just by being a part of it. I love to listen, to truly listen, to what people have to say. Over the years I have certainly done my fair share of talking as well, but when I was younger, I was more of an observer. I think when you start out life as a shy, introspective child, you gain a lot of insight and perspective about the world around you. You can immediately tell when someone is hurt, even if the person that inadvertantly hurt them might not notice. You see and notice small changes in facial expressions; disappointment or sadness. You watch and take internal notes, or at least I did. I may have been too quiet to do much about these observations until high school, but I know that the time I spent both writing and observing during those formative, character-building years made me into the empathetic person that I am today.

So when I was sitting on my love seat last night and heard about the death of the beloved Robin Williams, like everyone else, my jaw dropped open and I almost ran off to Snopes to find out if it was true...but mostly an overwhelming sense of melancholy washed over me because of the cause of death. Suicide. I hate that word. I also hate the phrase "committed suicide." It's so cold. It sounds so harsh. I don't know if "took his own life" sounds any better, but at least it's less clinical. People expressed shock about his untimely death and I suppose that's understandable in a way, but if you are familiar with suicide and have lived through the death of an immediate family member, you know that depression can completely change a person's life view in a matter of months. It changes their personality and their physical appearance, their mannerisms and their routine. It affects their level of patience, their former passions, their every relationship. It may not be completely transparent to the public, but the signs are there. And sometimes there's nothing we can do to recognize how serious the situation is until it's too late.

The other day I was home alone with Liam. He went down for a nap and I decided to relax watching some old home movies. (In addition to writing and being empathetic, I am also extremely nostalgic and sensitive). These particular movies are silent because they were filmed with my parents' Super 8 camera prior to their mega Camcorder purchase in 1986. I watched my first day of kindergarten...blonde curls and blue crocheted dress with little brown Mary Janes and a white button-up cardigan. Care Bears lunchbox. And then I watched Ryan's 2nd birthday party, in September of that same year (1984). I watched my Uncle Billy come up the hill with my Aunt Margaret. He was a young 30-year-old, even younger than I am now. Sporting faded but surprisingly designer-looking blue jeans and a long-sleeved v-neck shirt. Young and happy as could be with his hot blonde (who had a Farrah Fawcett haircut, I might add!) Looking at them, tears glistened in my eyes because I did the math. In 25 years, he would take his own life. Would you ever have guessed it had you been in that moment? Would I ever guessed it--my four-and-a-half year old self running around the front yard in that video without a care in the world? No. I wouldn't have. Even in the months before his death (and I was 30 when he died), I honestly didn't think he had it in him, even after hearing that he had been experiencing depression. I pride myself on being empathetic but I didn't even notice it was that bad that he thought it was the only alternative. I fell on the couch when my mom called to deliver the news. I was pregnant and alone and thought I might explode with sadness...I had just spoken to him the day before on my birthday; how could this have happened? But looking back, there were signs. Even when I had talked to him on the phone the day before (he called! he did care and remember despite all of his inner demons), I know he knew it was the last time we would ever speak. It chokes me up to even write that now. But I know he was at peace with his decison, as Robin probably was with his. While we will never be able to understand with our rational minds, it is an illness and it is important that people are aware of the signs and of how to get their loved one help.

I heard some unsophisticated caller on the radio this morning stating that Robin must not have "given a shit" about his three children to do this to them. I was practically shaking with anger at that statement because it is so FALSE. So unFAIR. Of course he did. He just could not see any other way out. Imagine being that depressed and paralyzed that you choose death over your own children. THAT is how serious depression is. Be aware and reach in whatever way you can.

Every year my family and I do the "Out of the Darkness" walk in October (there are plenty around the country, but this one is in Bristol, CT). All donations go towards research and education programs to prevent suicide and save lives, because suicide is more prevalent than you think: Suicide claims more than 38,000 lives each year in the United States alone, with someone dying by suicide every 13.7 minutes. A suicide attempt is made every minute of every day, resulting in nearly one million attempts made annually.

Let Robin Williams' death have just one silver lining: awareness. If you see someone struggling, be empathetic. Don't judge. Take the time out of your busy day to reach out and listen. It only takes a few minutes or hours but may make a difference. I know that there's nothing that I could have done to save my uncle, but I take comfort in the fact that I was there for him every time he called me that fall and winter. I cheerfully told him all about the events going on in my life and tried to make jokes and make him feel like his "real" self again. I am sure I wasn't completely successful every time, but I know in my heart that he knew I loved him and that I was trying to make a difference. Let's all take care of each other. Life is too short to do anything else.