OHBD 2015

OHBD 2015

Monday, August 19, 2013

Happy 22nd Anniversary -- Learning to Let Go and Grow

When I look at my life so far, including being a mom and my professional achievements, and think about what I am most proud of and what brings me the greatest joy, I have to say our 22 year union is definitely at the top of that list.  A long, fulfilling marriage doesn’t just happen, much as the fairy tales of youth promised I just needed to find my prince and live happily ever after.  I found it is definitely work, tough get in the trenches through disappointments and challenges; take a good hard look at myself and what is most important to me, stuff.    

In getting married, I gave up a lot of what I cherished.  I am extremely independent and self sufficient. By joining my life with Michael's on an August day two decades prior, I had to take into account another's perspective. I have definite thoughts on the proper “how” of many things – how the house should look, how to raise kids, how to pursue a career, and the list goes on and on.  Marriage made those all up for discussion and debate.  I treasure solitude as an introvert who lives in an extrovert world.  I need time to fill back up what, putting myself out there for so much of the time, takes out.  Sharing a domicile with another (and then a few more) means solitude must be planned and sought out; sometimes it is not even possible.  I like life steady. I have been described an unnaturally “Zen” person.  Not much gets me upset or panicked.  I assume things will work out until faced with unconverted evidence to the contrary.  My spouse more often takes the first warning sign as an omen of terrible things to come.  His family and culture seem to me to revel in huge ups and downs whether for matters of great gravity or those of relative triviality.  Now I must work harder to keep an even keel living alongside someone whose natural balance includes wild swings.
Why then do I feel our marriage is one of my proudest achievements and greatest joys?  It is because the more I let go, the more I am able to stretch my horizons to evolve and grow as a person.
The very hardest thing for me to surrender was the feeling of maintaining control; which I fiercely guarded for years after we were married. I was fine making decisions together.  But I needed to maintain a sense I was still in the driver seat of my life.  But one October day, the steering wheel was wrest violently out of my hands.  I could either accept a co-pilot or . . . . . 
I was diagnosed with cancer at 37.  Devastated and terrified, I could see all my emotions perfectly reflected on my love’s face when I shared the news.  I then made a request I know now was totally unfair. I asked, “Can you please act like everything is normal or I don't think I can get through this.”  I lost control over my life and was trying desperately to get it back.  After a lengthy surgery, I wanted to get on my feet and get moving, against the nurse’s instructions.  I recall a heated discussion at the hospital.  I couldn’t fathom why Michael did not get this was important to me.  He didn’t seem to appreciate how helpless I felt and how much I hated that feeling.  We had two little boys who needed their mom back.  And I wanted to hit the fast forward button and put this nightmare in my rear view mirror, no matter the cost. 
For a long time I was confused by Michael’s reaction and frankly a little hurt and disappointed.  Life characteristically moved on and we relocated cross country, both got new jobs and had a million different activities to take up the time – so we never really resolved the disconnect.  Then I attended ceremony where Michael gave the key note address to graduating high school students as they faced their futures.  I knew a bit of what he intended to say about life altering events for him, including the birth of our  first son who they feared had a life threatening condition, both his parents health crisis and my run in with the “C” word. 
However, I heard more than I expected.  Michael's brown eyes filled and his deep voice cracked trying to maintain composure while he shared his experience as the spouse. I found tears welling and then freely rolling down my cheeks as he described sitting for 6 hours, all alone, in the hospital waiting room and praying, praying, praying . . while I was under the surgeon’s scalpel.  I realized I didn’t know he was alone.  I didn’t know the surgery took 6 hours.  And it hit me why he had the reaction he did when I came out of surgery those years ago.  I could only imagine what it must have been like for him; his sense of helplessness must have been equal to, if not greater, than mine. 
Being married for 22 years provided me many opportunities to learn and come closer to the person I would like to be.  Letting go of what appears so critical at the time, often gives me great clarity and insight.  My husband’s final words to the graduating class said it best, “What is more important than all the success you seek to achieve, is to find someone you love to share it with, as I have.”  
I love you Michael. Happy 22nd anniversary! Looking forward to the next 22!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"My Son is Getting Chemo"

My husband asked me to accompany my nearly eleven year old son, Damian, for his minor surgery a few years back.  Michael is not comfortable in hospitals.  I agreed although the thought of spending time there was not appealing to me either.  My son grumbled on the drive because he had not been able to eat or drink for most of the day to prepare.  He definitely has enjoyed being well nourished since he was a baby.  We laugh at his first picture where it looks like he is sucking.  The two of us arrived late afternoon and checked in. 
As I was filling out the paperwork, I overheard one nurse tell another, “We are behind by at least an hour.  This happens all the time and I wish they planned better.”  I asked for an update on our scheduled time and they confirmed it was delayed.  I pointed out it would have been easy to make a phone call and let me know.  We could then have avoided spending extra hours at the hospital waiting around.  I got the obligatory, “So sorry, there is nothing we can do.  This is hospital policy.”  I felt talked down to and that my even raising the question was somehow a breach of etiquette. 
The nurse then, on her own initiative, got her supervisor to come by to tell me exactly the same thing.  Now I am starting to boil.   I understood the words perfectly the first time.  Having them delivered by a person with some authority did nothing to rectify the situation or make me feel validated.  In fact, it had the opposite effect.  I was then told I was welcome to file a complaint.  I tried not to lose sight of why I was there - -to support my son – although I was getting more upset about their efforts to justify their actions than I was about the original delay. 
To get my focus back on track, I turned to my son and asked if he was glad I was there with him.  He replied, “I am happy you came, Mommy, because I am scared.”  Now I was refocused. I told him, “You don’t look scared,” as he happily watched cartoons in his unflattering hospital gown.  (He was none too happy with having this memorialized as you can see.)  He replied, “That’s because I am good at hiding it.”  Hmmm, not the response I expected.  My mind was taken back to when he was a toddler and not so good at hiding his fears.  We decided to go to an all-inclusive hotel in Mexico for a family vacation.   We settled on the only one with a kids club that accepted 2 year olds.  We discover another resort next door with exciting options including turtles, black panthers and an underground water way you could float down.  We decided to see the animals and experience the river. 
When we got to the entry point of the stream, we were each given life jackets.  Damian, then two, excitedly pulled his on over this head.  And he and I jumped together into the unexpectedly frigid water and began floating with the current.  As we entered the underground caverns, Damian, no longer was sure this was for him, started thrashing and pushing me down.  I was afraid for both of us.  So I started singing nursery rhymes and asked him to sing with me.  As soon as he started belting out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” his body relaxed.  And he again floated peacefully with me inside the dark spaces.  We continued down this river tour with people laughing as they passed by us or occasionally even joining in the impromptu caroling.  After serenading perfect strangers with every child friendly song we knew (and a few twice), we arrived safely at the other side.  His ability to change his perspective, and focus on the something other than his fear, gave him a whole new view of the experience.

Since we had time, we decided to walk around a bit.  After some exploration of the hospital, we eventually received word the doctor was out of his prior surgery.  Damian was wheeled away for his turn.  And I went to find a Starbucks and get a much needed cup of coffee.  I found myself again reflecting on the annoyance of the unplanned late night and the unpleasant exchanges of earlier. 
As I waited for the elevator, another mother walked up and asked, “Done for the night?”  “No,” I replied.  “They just took my son away for surgery.”  She smiled sympathetically and shared, “My son is getting chemo.”  I quickly retorted, “Oh, that’s worse.”  She had the look of someone who knew too much about the subject as she said wearily, “They are all bad.”  During our brief ride, she shared her son was 15, just about the same age as my eldest at the time, and was being treated for lymphoma.  I sensed she received some small measure of comfort from what she perceived as our shared experience.  I did not have the heart to tell her my son’s surgery was of a routine nature and nothing like what her son was battling. 

I walked out of the elevator feeling humbled and small.  How could I complain about such minor inconveniences when there were mothers, like this one, facing down gut wrenching challenges?  Why wasn’t I more grateful for the health of my children?  I realized for me too, like my son when he was a toddler, a change in perspective made me instantly see things very differently.  I owe that mother a big "thank you" for the important reminder.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Motherhood Lesson: Couple Time is So Vital And Yet So Hard to Find

Couple Vacation – Selfish or Survival:  I read this survey in a magazine while my husband and I were enjoying a rare couple’s vacation in Hawaii. 
I asked my husband what percent he thought said “survival.”  He guessed 70% -- the result was in fact 90%.  Finding time for the two of us has been a struggle for me since becoming a mom.  My husband was my first priority in our early time together although we were both busy with jobs, school and other activities.  We took a number of years to get to know each other before we took the plunge and became parents.  I vividly recall my fear when pregnant with my first son that bringing a child into our relationship might “ruin” it.  We are polar opposites in many respects and had worked hard to find balance and joy in our diversity. 

Our beautiful baby boy, who bore a striking resemblance to his handsome dad, of course did not ruin anything.  I remember seeing my spouse’s eyes fill up when he was handed our son in the hospital.  And I couldn’t have felt more love for him than I did at that moment.  That scene, baby to dad, dad’s eyes fill and my heart swells repeated itself with our second and third children although the last hand off took place in a house in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  In many ways, becoming parents brought us closer and took our relationship to a much deeper level as we saw ourselves and each other exhibited in various ways in our children.  But making quality time a priority was challenging in the context of a two working parent household.  We have only rarely taken a trip together.  And date nights are not a frequent occurrence either with all the kid and work activities.   When we did a good job of getting out together once a week for a period, it was unusual enough for our eldest to ask why we all of a sudden needed to spend that much time alone together.
When we lived apart for ten months in 2005, we learned how much we loved being in the same physical space and reveling in the little moments of each day.  But even following that experience, we struggled to keep balance between our familial relationships.  Kids’ needs are immediate and demand attention.  As a working mom, I prioritized those in the time I had.  I recall when we brought a baby conure (a small parrot) home as a pet for my eldest.  We previously bought a parakeet from a local pet store that died within the year which devastated him.  Dimitri did his research to determine what type of bird he wanted and I did mine to find a reputable a breeder.  Any baby has special requirements, even an aviary version.  We needed to acclimate it to our home and teach it skills which took time and patience.  And those duties fell to my eldest and me.

About a week after the little feathered one joined our family, my husband said to me in his deep Greek accented voice.  “I know I went down in your priorities with the birth of each of our boys.”  Our daughter had not yet arrived.  “I am okay being number three behind them.  But if I am now below the bird, we have a problem.”  I laughed out loud. Although looking at his face, I could see he was quite serious.  It is a line I remember when I realize I am starting to take our relationship for granted. 
We have our whole lives so it is easy to think I have time to focus on it later.  He is a big reason for my success.  He is the one I want there by my side for the triumphs and tragedies life brings us.  As we strolled around the stunningly beautiful grounds in Hawaii, we still enjoyed each other’s company without the craziness of three kids.  We have come far together over the decades with successes, struggles, laughter and tears.  We chuckle when we hear a child misbehaving, and one of us can say, “Not ours!”  Although our children and jobs are always frequent topics of conversation, taking time specifically for ourselves away from both is necessary and good. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Motherhood Lesson: Ignorance Is Empowering

Some say what you don’t know can’t hurt you.  I know that is not true in many respects.  But I found when I faced certain choices, there is a benefit to not being fully aware of what all they will entail.  Some are life altering choices like getting married.  I had no idea of the compromises, ups, downs, twists and turns we would encounter when we decided to join our lives.  I could never have anticipated the joys, discovery, support, love and laughter either.  Having children is another.  I found there are many consequences of becoming a mother through biology or adoption that weren’t even in my consciousness when I decided to make those choices.  I joke with friends that those who already have children don’t share all the gory details until you are “in the club” and it’s too late to turn back.
There are also less momentous choices.   

When I struggled during my early years in college, I dropped out and moved to Europe.  When I returned to the US, I had no specific plan.  I thought I would just figure it out as I went along.  Had I known how lonely and daunting it would be to put my life back on a career track, I might have chosen a safer path.  But as it turns out, I met my husband at the University I chose because it was walking distance from the apartment I could afford.  And after graduating and getting married, I went on to law school.

I used to think my approach of making decisions and then learning what they meant was tied to youth.  But I still do it.  And I may even do it almost intentionally now (my husband is convinced of it).  I wrote about “the anatomy of an accidental auction”.  I volunteered to chair an event to support two great organizations working in my daughter’s birth country of Ethiopia.  My inspiration is pictured with me after an Ethiopian New Year celebration. 
Somewhere in the back of my head, a little voice said, “You don’t have time.  This will be hard.  You don’t know what you are doing.  You will fail.”  But I jumped in and committed to a venue and date in part so I could not get cold feed.   I saw a recent quote attributed to Van Gogh that made this point powerfully, “When you hear a voice in your head that say you can’t paint.  Paint and it will be silenced.”
As I work to silence my little voice, I thought about choices I made over the years without complete information where the same kinds of doubts echoed in my mind.   Deciding to “go all in” is part of the formula for success for me.  Once I cross a certain point, I am committed.  I think another part is being an enthusiastic optimist. I paint a vivid image in my mind of the desired outcome – in part to drown out the little voice.  I touch it, see it, smell it, hear it, and even taste it.    If I hit hurdles, I view those as indications I need to dig deeper -- be more creative, work harder, or ask for help.  I am not above doing whatever it takes.  Plus I am known to have a stubborn streak – admitting the little voice was right means giving into fear. 

Although I don’t like to fail or let my kids fail, I learned failure often painfully provide the biggest growth opportunities.  I have jumped in multiple times.  And I survived and even thrived.   I now remind myself of the successes when panic threatens to overwhelm my optimism.  This moment is almost inevitable when, somewhere around the half way point, the chance for the success I envisioned seems remote. Holding the faith and plowing ahead often reveals options and support I couldn’t see around the corner.  Ignorance may not be bliss . . .but I have found it can be empowering. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Working Mother Challenge: Who Do You Trust to Take Care of Your Children

Before my first son was born, I obsessed about who would take care of him when I returned to work.  I vividly recall standing in my kitchen about 7 months pregnant when the wife of one of husband’s colleagues called. She had a young son and was pregnant again.  She wanted to let me know she decided to stay home and start an in-house day care. I was thrilled.   I felt the relief flow over my swollen body.
However, as with many firsts in motherhood, there were complexities I didn’t appreciate.  She had never run an in-home day care.  She got sick; her child got sick.  And she took vacations and other time off.  Whenever she could not be there, I needed to find a back up.  I was an associate at a large law firm. I negotiated a work-from-home arrangement a couple days a week but the remaining days were by necessity long to compensate.
Even so, we managed with only the occasional difficult patch of a late pick up or last-minute scramble for coverage -- until I got a new job in the far suburbs.  With a longer commute and no more telecommuting for at least 6 months, I needed to get close to the original hours she said she would be available.  Her response to my request was, “When he is here longer than 8-9 hours, I start to resent him.”  I felt like someone put a dagger through my heart.  Unwelcome tears welled in my eyes at her words.
I felt torn in half.  I didn’t want someone with those feelings to continue caring for my child.  I also did not want to disrupt my son’s early life as he seemed generally happy.  I decided try to make it work with her.  But she was unwilling to accommodate the hours I needed even for a defined period. 
Although part of me was devastated that my son’s well being did not mean more to her, I also felt a bit of relief. .. since deep down I didn’t trust her anymore. We ended up in another in-home day care. This mom had 5 kids, mostly older.  My son was enthralled with the bustle of a full house as well as being the center of attention of many.  This situation worked much smoother.  She had done this for years and was much more comfortable with the routine.  I realized I was na├»ve thinking because someone wanted to they would necessarily embrace the role and be excellent at it -- it is truly a extremely challenging one.

Once we moved to be closer to my job, we decided to move him to a true day care.  I wanted the stability of set hours and a curriculum that would prepare my child for school. My son started at eighteen months and immediately took to it.  He particularly enjoyed the variety of activities including channeling his inner karate kid. With my second son born on his brother’s birthday four years later, I completely avoided the child care angst.  I happily put him into the same daycare.  He was a favorite.  I recall one young woman was moved from his room because she spent too much time with him and not enough with the other children.
When we adopted our daughter seven years later, the angst came back with a vengeance.  I had to ask myself what child care option was right for her.  I found I was taken back to those waning moments of my first pregnancy and when I needed to find another caregiver after the first one didn’t work out.  I faced a similar but even deeper uncertainty.  Since I knew little about her early life, I felt less equipped to make the decision and forced myself to be open. 

I was talking about it with her 11-year-old brother.  I said, “We might need to get a nanny for Leyla.  She might not be ready for day care.”  His reaction was quick and emphatic, “I don’t like that idea.”  He is known for sharing his opinion irrespective of whether you asked for it. 
I asked, “Why not?” unsure of what his answer might be but curious nonetheless.  He said, “Well, the way I see it, she will be doing your job.”  Ouch!  That is exactly how I felt about it when I first considered a nanny for him a decade earlier. I wanted it to be about my new daughter, not my preference and insecurity.  I wondered if his answer reflected the later . . .

As it turns out, she was a lot like her brothers. She loved her day care and was quite a favorite there herself. She saw herself as an honorary member of the staff. She liked to play pretend where she is a teacher and her brothers are the preschoolers. One day she too might have to face the decision of what child care option is best for her baby. She is pictured here giving instructions to her doll. When she pretends she is the “mommy” and tells me, “Give a kiss, mommy’s gotta go to work now,” it makes me smile and think she will figure it out just fine for herself. 


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Making “Good Enough” GOOD When Accepting the Trade-Offs between Motherhood and Career

When I celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary, I wanted to surprise my husband with a post honoring his amazing support of my career throughout the years.  But I also had a large operational plan to deliver to senior management that same day.  I planned ahead and wrote a draft well in advance.  I edited painstakingly to the point I thought it was close. I really wanted to get this one just right but it needed more than editing.   For my writing to reflect me, I have learned I need something even more difficult to find in the hustle of a two career, three children household:  a quiet place in my mind where I gain clarity.  I need to remove the clutter of other distractions and priorities. Then when I write, I just follow where my thoughts take me. 

With the looming deadline, I couldn’t find this place until the weekend after our anniversary.  As I published the finished post to my facebook profile, I shared why this anniversary announcement was two days late.  I get that rather misses the point of instant updates which I have never been quite able to fully embrace anyway, being a more contemplative type.  In my status, I wrote I learned over the last 20 years that sometime close is good enough.

I thought about this more in the days that followed because it is a theme that resonates with me.  Later that summer, I visited a dear friend, Cindy, who lives in Holland.  We are pictured here with our two youngest. I used to live there and miss the day to day contact.  But since I moved back to the US, we have grown our friendship by making do with what was available to us and cherishing the times we can be together.  She has four young sons and a career helping with third world development.  She asked while I was there how I found time to write.  I told her it wasn’t easy but I committed to starting and then made it a priority. 

She is an amazing cook.  My family reveled in her creatively cooked meals.  She has a broad range from her travels to the far flung parts of the world.  When we got back home, my eldest asked with the teenage tone he has recently perfected, “Why can’t you do home cooking every night like Cindy does?”  So many responses flashed through my brain – “Why can’t you be the child you were, before you reached your teen years, who thought everything I did was perfect?  Why do you have such a sense of entitlement?  Why can’t you see how hard I am trying to make this all work - -but there are limits child?”

Instead, I answered honestly and directly.  “Given my current work obligations, I can’t cook for you all as much as you or I would like.  I have to make hard choices about how I spend my time and right now that has not been my priority.”  He nodded and walked off.  In truth, it stung.  I want to be that perfect mom who makes the home a wonderfully welcoming place. 

I am not. I love to cook and wrote a cookbook with my middle son.  But I don't do it every day.  My schedule often has me home later.  These are the tradeoffs we make now.  But I was glad he shared that it was important to him.  Knowing that gives me an opportunity to adjust and juggle so we can have home cooked meals more often.   I was also glad to hear how much he enjoyed being with my friend and her family.

I know Cindy loves cooking for her family and made it one of her priorities. She finds there are other things she can’t do because of it, like write as I do.  But I found making “good enough” good is not just about making those types of trade-offs.  I also need to accept I am not super human and I will not be able to do everything those I care about want me to do.  Once I make a choice, I need be okay with it instead of letting doubt and guilt sneak in and take away my ability to revel in the messiness, joy and exploration inherent in this type of juggling.  And as was the case here, I need to remain open and adjust so I continue to do right for myself and my family as things constantly evolve. 
What I know deep down, “good enough” to maintain balance is not settling for less.  Within the context of these important competing priorities, it is just GOOD.   I am not able hang on to that everyday yet but I am getting closer.    

Sunday, April 28, 2013

How Motherhood Helped My Career: Taught Me Brutal Prioritization

I have seen much written about how motherhood negatively affects your career.  I don’t dispute it but I want to share how motherhood actually helped my career. Yes, I admit it.  I am an optimistic, half full kind of person.  But there is still something here.  Although nothing I learned is much more than common sense . . .becoming a mother made me open to embrace it.

Being a mom (or "mama" as my daughter prefers) taught me brutal prioritization.  Don’t get me wrong, I could prioritize before.  I needed this skill to complete law school right after getting married and handle my responsibilities as a overworked associate at a large firm for three years before my first child arrived. 

Brutal prioritization is different – it requires complete honesty.  To do it effectively, I need to dig deep and figure out what is truly important.  I use a quote as a litmus test: "No one ever lies on their death bed wishing they spent more time at the office."  When I take this long view, the answers are clearer.  Before motherhood, I was more likely to accept another’s priority:  "This project requires you to work over the weekend."  "Good mothers don’t miss any of their kids activities."  "You can have it all if you just work harder."

My prioritization evolved. I learned I am no good to anyone if I don’t take care of myself.  This includes the physical but also what brings me fulfillment.  I give myself permission to make my interests, like writing, cooking, and gardening, important.  I try to do them with my kids and share them with friends and family so they seemed less indulgent.  But they are priorities.

I also made my kids my priority.  But that doesn’t mean I make all their important events.  I do my best to consistently show them how important they are to me.  I try to help them see I am a whole person with dimensions beyond being their mother.  I want my boys to respect women’s choices.  And I want my daughter to have freedom to make her own choices.

I focus on leaving regret behind as a wasteful emotion. It furthers no priorities. I try not to second guess when I let myself or someone else down. Instead I strive to learn from failure and move on as quickly as I can. I do my best to be in the moment. Seeing my boys grow from babies to young adults in what felt like just a few short years hit home with me that each moment is precious and fleeting. We (with one son missing since he was the photographer) are pictured enjoying a dinner in Greece, my husband’s homeland, even as I was juggling operational planning with my team remotely. (Motherhood also taught me the beauty of the word "AND" but that's for a later post.)

A successful working mother gave a speech on balancing when I was a young mom.  A line stuck with me. “If you are going to spend time away from your kids, do something you truly love.”  I make finding joy in my work a focus --both in the intellectual exercise and in the human element.  I share with my kids what I learn to give them a perspective on things in their future as well as a more complete view of who I am.

I went to a Franklin Covey seminar shortly after getting a big role some years ago.  One take away was not to separate work and home when you prioritize -- but to view your life as a whole.  At the time, I was beginning to do this naturally but not consistently.  Since then, I work to make it how I live.

After becoming a mom, I had greater success in my career and more fulfillment in my life.  Brutal prioritization is my yardstick to measure the depth and breadth of my life

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Raising a Teen: A Chance to Learn From My Son and My Younger Self

Things changed since I grew up (wow – I sound like my parents – always surprises me when it happens).  When I attended my eldest son’s 8th grade promotion, I was struck by a few things.  First, going to high school was not a promotion when I was a kid.  Second, I was too young to have a high schooler. . or at least I feel that way. 

The ceremony was beautiful with student performance and speakers.  One girl, who sounded much too old for 14, talked about adult topics like fulfilling ambitions and honoring transitions.  In contrast, a boy speaker stood up to applause and listed off all the teachers who had made him like learning more than he ever thought possible although much less than they wanted. 

I recognized both from my middle school although the names and faces were different.  Watching my children grow up gives me a unique opportunity to travel back in time and visit my younger self.  I was moved by the performers.  One young man performed “Let it be” so beautifully it brought tears to my eyes much to the chagrin of my Greek husband (who earlier pretended he didn’t tear up when he saw our son walk in).  Another girl wrote and sang her own song which impressed me on so many levels.  I didn’t have the kind of confidence it takes to put a piece of you out there in such a public and easy to criticize manner, although I wished I had. 
One performer made me travel back in time to my eighth grade self.  She sang “Freckles” by Natasha Bedingfield:

I used to care so much about what others think about
Almost didn't have a thought of my own
The slightest remark would make me embark
On the journey of self doubt
But that was a while ago
This girl has got stronger
If I knew then what I know now
I would have told myself don't worry any longer it’s okay
I wondered if I could trade my body with somebody else in magazines
With the whole world full at my feet
I phantom worthy and would blame my failures on the ugliness I could see
When the mirror looked at me
Sometimes I feel like the little girl who doesn't belong in her own world
But I’m getting better
And I’m reminding myself

Cuz a face without freckles is a sky without stars
Why waste a second not loving who you are
Those little imperfections make you beautiful, lovable, valuable,
They show your personality inside your heart
Reflecting who you are
I don’t have freckles.  But I see them as a metaphor of things we see wrong in ourselves.  As she sang, I was transported.  I remembered wishing to have so and so’s hair, wanting to be thinner, more confident . . . to be many things I thought I was not.  I recalled the sting of being the geeky “too smart” kid. 

Then, I was engulfed with a vivid memory of a recess in 8th grade.  With coke bottle glasses, braces and a stick thin physique resulting from an 8 inch growth spurt, I was quite the picture of awkwardness.  I slowly walked up to a group of girls at the far side of the playground.  I willed my feet to move one in front of the other and tried to quell the fear of what might happen when I actually got there.  We went to school together at a small private school since kindergarten with the exception of one or two who joined later.  I had one best friend in grade school but we had a falling out when we reached seventh grade. 
As I approached, I saw one girl whisper to the group.  And they all gazed pointedly my way.  My legs felt leaden and bile collected in my belly.  Then they burst out laughing and ran the opposite direction.  I stopped in my tracks feeling completely exposed.  I refused to let the threatening tears reach my eyes.  I thought, “What is so ugly about me that people run away?” 

I am known now for maintaining my composure under the most extreme conditions.  This moment was a true test.  I kept my head up, walked slowly back to the school building and counted the seconds until the bell rang.  I didn’t let the sobs take over my body until I was safely in my bedroom in the basement of my parent’s home that evening.  “Freckles” spoke to me even though I am now a much more self assured woman.  My eighth grade self, who watched those girls run from her, is still inside.
My kids are confident and outgoing.  I truly hope they don’t face that kind of rejection. But more importantly, I hope they never inflict it unwittingly on someone else.  I know the girls were having fun and had no idea how devastating that experience was to me.   Teaching my kids empathy and visiting my younger self when I need to find it are legacies I chose to keep.  Also the memories remind me I am not that girl anymore.  I gained the power to use negative experiences, like that one, to find a positive impact.

Watching my son accept his certificate proudly and then impatiently take pictures so he could spend time with his friends, made my heart swell.  This was his day but it was also a special day for me.  I felt a sense of full closure on that earlier chapter by witnessing him embark on his own journey toward adulthood.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Did My Husband Marry Someone Like His Mother?

My husband was born and raised in Greece.  He came from an extremely sports oriented family who also enjoyed eating with gusto, fun loving company and relaxing as a deliberate activity.  His mother is a warm, welcoming "food is love" person.  I was born and raised in the US by Dutch parents.  Our family focus centered more on music, nature, travel and school studies.

I read an article about how people's spouses are often like their parents.  I smugly thought . . not always. . gazing at a picture of my husband and I.  I thought of all the ways my mother-in-law – whom I adore and admire - - are different.  She was a very young mom; I became one much later.  She stayed at home; I have always been a working mom.  She loves to be the domestic goddess, I prefer to dabble in the culinary arts and have someone else take care of the house. She is Greek; I am American.  She came from a less liberated era; the times I live in give me infinitely more choices.

I thought I would ask my husband.  Essentially, I was looking for him to validate my view.  I am not sure why I cared . . I think being unique or different somehow in my mind had translated to good.
His answer surprised me.  He said, “Yes, I think you are a whole lot like my mother.  It’s one of the reasons I love you.”  Are you kidding me????  I only thought this as I ran through the list of differences again in my head and wondered what on earth he could be thinking. 

Instead, I asked in a neutral tone (I hoped).  “Really, what do you see as the similarities?”  His follow up reply surprised me too.  He said, “Family is number one for you.  You are a wonderful mother to our kids, you like to take care of people, and you are lots of fun to be with.”  Wow – now I was humbled.

I realized he was right . . and I was wrong (okay that always hurts to say even if it is just in my head).  The differences I focused on were not the important things.  What he had pointed to were the essence of a person.  I loved he thought I was like his mother in those ways. 
She has an amazing relationship with her son, which I hope I can have with my kids as adults.  I think I also wanted, in some way, to separate my relationship with my husband from the one she and he share.  But now I see the beauty in the connection and continuity.  And I wonder if my kids' spouses will resemble my husband and I.  The whole family is pictured celebrating my mother in law's name day in Greece.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Working Mother Challenge: Be In the Present

I was walking with a friend and catching up.  She is an amazing person.  She welcomed us when we first moved in with a party at her house introducing us to the neighbors.  She baked cookies with my son when I forget he had early dismissal and didn’t make arrangements.  She is constantly arranging a fund raiser of some kind or another.  She has two kids of her own involved in all types of activities, a part time job and a husband who travels for work.  She also lost a dear friend and her beloved father within the months of each other. As we were enjoying the Washington greenery, she mentioned she is working on living more in the moment. 

I could relate.  I have “to do” lists can top 100. .. (not productive, I know!).  When I am home, something not done always seems to grab my attention, dishes in the sink, dirty clothes, or a late bill.  I find it hard to stop and just be:   be with my kids, be with husband, be with a friend, or be with myself and my thoughts.  I feel like I wasted time if I haven’t accomplished something I can check off and say “done.”  I realized being in the moment will never give me that type of satisfaction.  But for me, it is more important than most items on my lists.  My friend provided me a great reminder which was that much more compelling delivered by since she is struggling with the same challenge.
On Mother’s Day, I focused on being in the present.  I blogged before about a surprise “Mom Rap” my son wrote.  He followed up with another one for Mother’s Day (as part of his power point shown above . . I took a few liberties with line breaks to make it easier to read).  Given my focus, I noticed he hit on my struggle to be in the moment.

Hey mom you do deserve a break, everyone agrees. Mother’s day is the time to get that break. So settle down and listen to the mom rap.
Yoh! Yoh! Mom you’re the best and you need to take a rest. Now settle down, we boys can fix the house all around. No need to get your hair in a tangle, all that stress will make you want to strangle, yourself, the family will do the work while you read books off the shelf.

And now go lay down in bed, we’ll give you breakfast with bread, and give you all the fancy things you like, No need to argue please it will make your day worse and make you want to burst, and start getting mad! No please enjoy the day .
And for all the people who hate this, go run away.  

He clarified that the last line was for his brother who as a teenager thinks anything his younger brother does has no value. I laughed out loud as he whispered this explanation in my ear so no one else could hear.

I am taking these pearls of wisdom from a pre-teen year old aspiring poet (that’s my word .. he prefers rapper),  to heart.  I will “take a rest,”  “settle down,” “read books,” “lay down in bed,” and “enjoy the day.”  Or at least try my best  . . .  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Motherhood Surprises: Bond of Brothers

There are lots of things no one bothers to tell you when you are becoming a mother.  I have a litany of unpleasant little facts of pregnancy and infancy that my friends appear to have forgotten to mention.  But there are also wonderful surprises.  One of those for me was watching my children fall in love with each other. 

My two boys are born on the same day in February four years apart.  I remember going into labor with my second pregnancy in the evening.  I told my basketball coach husband to go ahead and finish his game.  I thought I had time.  When he came home, I wasn’t so sure so we sped to the hospital.  Our son, Damian, entered the world less than one hour into his older brother Dimitri’s fourth birthday.  He was delivered by the emergency room doctor (which incidentally did not stop my ob-gyn from billing me but that is another post).

We planned to celebrate our eldest entering his fifth year by going to the Chicago aquarium.  He loves animals of any kind, shape or form.  This aquarium is a rare treat of all types of spectacular aquatic life from around the globe.  But obviously that wasn’t happening now.  I was shocked when he took it completely in stride.  He said happily when told, “I got the best present ever -- a little brother!!” 
I thought back to our ultra-sound experience.  He was convinced at that time he would have a sister.  He liked the symmetry of two boys (him and dad) and two girls (the new little one and me).  When the tech announced the sex as another boy, she was shocked by a long wailing “NO-O-O” emitted from this same son.  “Wow, you have gotten your head in a completely different place,” I thought.  But I was also amazed at how thrilled he was with this new addition to the family.

We did take them both to the aquarium when Damian was about 3 months old.  Dimitri wanted his baby brother to see his favorite sea creatures.  He picked out a fun stuffed shark souvenir for his brother to “remember” the visit.
During those early years, Dimitri would on occasion refer to Damian as “Me and Mommy’s baby.” He had no jealousy but took his responsibility to help Mommy with the baby very seriously.  Seeing him hold his infant brother back then and want to take care of him warmed my heart.   His love of me and his father, for some reason, I expected. This outpouring of love for a little one who stole his birthday and could not express those feeling back touched me to my core.  They are pictured below in those early days.

I have to remind myself of those wonderful moments sometimes now that they are older and fight more than they get a long, it seems.  But I know the bond is still strong.  An effective punishment for either is that they cannot spend time together.