You’re Gonna Miss This

Last summer, my husband and his three siblings gathered for 48 hours to be with his parents, given that their dad had experienced some health scares. It was a special gathering for everyone, particularly since in this case, it was just the original siblings—no spouses or children. They realized that they hadn’t all been together in their original family form for almost 30 years, since the older siblings started getting married and having babies. It made me realize how special our time is with our kids while we have them, because once they go off to college and then marry and have their own families, it’s never quite the same. I remember when my kids were babies, and I was endlessly nursing the little one and reading to both of them, balancing them on my rocker as their little bodies squiggled to see the pages. An older friend of mine who had teens at the time, said, “I would give anything to have those days again.” Even though I was exhausted from the constant diapers and tantrums, I got what she meant. This was a sweet time in our lives, when our little ones were so happy to snuggle up on our laps and devour the next picture book. I remember when my son Will would flap his arms in excitement as a baby every time I read Where Is Baby’s Belly Button? He loved that book so much, just as my daughter loved Mo Mo Goes to the City so much that she literally tried to eat it, by pulling off the tabs that moved the images and putting them in her mouth. I remember taking my kids on “nature walks” through our neighborhood with special buckets to pick up treasures. What I loved was how unhurried those days were. We lay on our backs to watch the clouds moving and would hug trees since “trees need love too.”

As my kids got older, my son wore capes for years to keep away bad guys and my daughter dressed up as princesses. (Just for the record, I would have been fine with the roles reversed.) We had a lot of tea parties and the kids dressed up all the time in different costumes. And then it was play dates and special snacks, and performances in the basement and clubs formed, like the Clementine Club, in which anyone could join if they were in 1st grade and loved clementines. There was learning to read, and discovering best friends. Then sleep-overs and soccer games and school plays. And now that my kids are 14 and 12, I love having their friends over, hearing about their lives, and enjoying the sound of loud laughter emerging from the basement, while the kids play Wii or shoot nerf guns. My job is to provide endless food and catch a glimpse into their lives. Getting to know my kids’ friends, who are smart and interesting people, makes me feel hopeful about the world.

The reality is that ever since my kids were babies, their lives has been expanding every year to include more of the world that doesn’t include me or my husband. We don’t really know what goes on at school, beyond what our kids and their teachers tell us. It’s their world, not ours. Camp is their own world, just as their activities are, as it should be. And increasingly the best way to find out about their lives is to take long car rides without electronics. Even on short rides, they start talking about their lives, even if I do have to listen to awful R&B-infused pop in the background as they are talking.

There’s a good country song called “You’re Gonna Miss This” which takes a teenage girl who can’t wait to grow up, through learning to drive, then her first apartment, then babies, and always wishing for the next stage. The chorus of the song is: “You’re gonna miss this/ You’re gonna want this back/You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast/These are some good times/So take a good look around/You may not know it now/
But you’re gonna miss this.” I love this sentiment because it echoes what I’ve tried to remind myself throughout my life. I’m going to miss this so I better pay attention.

As my husband and I get ready to take our kids to Portugal and Spain, we are grateful for the opportunity to hang out with our kids without distractions or friends or interlopers. It will just be us, a rental car, a few hotels, a map, food and alternating time on the beach with time seeing ruins and castles. This is why my husband and I feel so strongly about international travel, using our miles to take our kids to different countries. When we’re in a strange land, we have to rely on each other and we connect in a way that is harder to do back home with so many distractions.

To find your world stage, remember to savor what season of life you are in, whether it’s college, or your first job, or the early married years or being home with babies, or living with teens, because whatever stage it is, it will go by too fast, and someday you’re gonna miss this.

HPIM2664.jpgMy two children and I about 10 years ago.

 

Life Is Good

It’s easy to focus on the bad things happening in the world. This week, Otto Warmbier died, having been in a coma for over a year at the hands of North Korean prison guards.  I can’t imagine the pain his parents went through, knowing that their college-aged son was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for supposedly taking down a propaganda poster. In addition, yesterday the group of 13 all-male US Senators finished the draft on health care, which will make care too expensive for millions of Americans, and make being a woman and having children a liability.  I do wonder if these men remember that all people come from women’s bodies, and that they would not be alive if it weren’t for their mothers. To penalize women for needing maternal health care if unconscionable.  Then there’s the Philandro Castile trial, in which a cop was acquitted of shooting a black man simply because his car’s tail light was out. If this had been a white man shot, the trial would have ended differently. And then there’s hate crimes and global warming that our administration doesn’t recognize. It’s enough to make one think that life is pretty bad. But it isn’t.

There have always been bad things going on throughout history: wars, famine, fires, drought, plagues, and cycles of evil despots. Children used to regularly die of small pox. Women used to often die in childbirth. Education used to just consist of a one room school house for everyone except the very wealthy.  Slavery used to be legal. But with all of our advances, we still see every day how much violence and despair there is in the world, and it’s hard to feel hopeful.

And yet, a few days ago, I was walking around a lake near our home on a gorgeous afternoon with azure blue skies and perfectly formed clouds, and a group of geese gathered to navigate launching themselves into the water. Watching them made me smile. They took turns and didn’t push, and one by one, they managed to all slide into the water and then swam together in formation. This week, my 14 year-old daughter returned home from a school trip to France. As my husband and I waited for her outside the big immigration doors, we felt so grateful to have the ability to travel almost anywhere in the world and be welcome with our passports. This was the first time I had been to the international section of the airport this year, since Trump’s attempts at the travel bans. It was so heartwarming to see every possible race, religion, and country streaming through the doors. We saw women in head scarves with young children, a few older Indian women in full saris, hip Europeans in tight jeans and cool t-shirts, and an old Korean couple meeting up with their grandson, among others. We also got a text from our daughter before she emerged through the doors, letting us know that her group was delayed because one of her classmates, who is Chinese, forgot his visa, and was being questioned by immigration officials. He ultimately got through with no problem, but we were reminded of what so many people go through when traveling, and how lucky we are.

When you feel the world’s despair, remember to focus on what you are grateful for. I often have my clients list all the little things that they love, since it’s particularly helpful for those who feel stuck or lost. Once they remember what they love– whether tulips or swimming in a lake or snuggling with their children– then they can get clarity for the rest. To find your world stage, remember that the world has always been broken. As Leonard Cohen once wrote: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Don’t let the cracks get in the way of your daily joy. Today, go find a sunny spot and enjoy watching the geese play.

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Ignore Instructions

Throughout our lives, we are taught that we need to listen to authority, follow instructions, and go with the crowd. That certainly makes for more orderly schools and work places, but it doesn’t work in emergencies. Even if we are alone, the voice of propriety may drown out our protective instincts if we’re not careful. The fact is that when your life is on the line, you need to listen to your instincts and notice your surroundings so you can make the right decision. When I was backpacking in my twenties throughout Europe, I found myself being followed one night by someone on a deserted road in Saltzberg. The good girl in me wanted to ignore that I was being followed, in case I was mistaken. After all, I didn’t want to make a scene. But my intuition knew that I would be in trouble if I didn’t do something drastic. As the footsteps got closer to me, I looked around and found the only people in sight, which was a couple sitting in a parked car, and I jumped in their car and asked them to please take me to my hotel. They were surprisingly gracious, and the stalker moved on. If I hadn’t listened to my instincts, the ending might very well have been different.

Take the incident this week in London, with the huge high rise, Grenfell Tower, bursting into flames and tenants being told to stay in place so that they could be safely rescued. Many of those people did not made it out, because they couldn’t be reached by firefighters in time before they succumbed to smoke inhalation. Those people supposedly did the right thing, listening to authority and obediently waiting for help. But as a result, they didn’t survive. According to the New York Times, “The fire action protocol said that residents who were safely inside their apartments when there was a fire elsewhere should stay put, keeping doors and windows closed… But David King, a building engineer, said that in his three-decade career, he had never heard of residents in high-rise buildings being told to stay put.”  The BBC stated: “One resident of Grenfell Tower, Michael Paramasivan, said that he had been told in the case of fire he must stay in his flat – advice he ignored. ‘If we had stayed in that flat, we would have perished,’ he said. This is not the first time the advice to stay put has been called into question.”

During 9/11, after the North Tower was hit, many workers in the South Tower were told to return to their desks since the danger was confined to the other tower. Following these instructions ended up needlessly killing many people. According to The Guardian, “The evidence that people were instructed by employers and security guards to remain in the South Tower, and thus were condemned to death, is spreading this weekend. Ernie Falk… said that he was walking into the bank’s reception area when he heard a ‘horrendous boom’ of the first plane’s impact, and made a successful run for it… ‘I heard people being told, ‘The building is secure. The safest place is inside; stay calm and do not leave.’ That’s what they were saying. They were telling people to go back up to their offices and their desks, like the building was not in danger.’ People who worked in offices above the ninety-third story would have been able to reach their workplaces only for the second plane to plow into the tower beneath them – leaving them with little or no chance of survival.”

One of the biggest lessons of these tragedies is that people did listen to authority and perished as a result. So often we want to please others and do the right thing and to fit in with the culture. When I was a new college graduate, I worked in a high rise just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. Our offices were on the 50-60th Floors. My first day of work, I asked where all the exits were. I was told that the elevator was all that I needed. They figured that there wasn’t going to be a fire, and if there was, it would be taken care. In almost two years of working there, we never had a fire safety drill, so I always kept in mind where those exists were. At home, we have a ladder in my office to extend from our second floor window in case of fire. I taught my kids how to check for two exits on every flight and how to count the seat backs in case of smoke. I also taught them the universal sign for choking in case they are ever choking, so that they can be helped. I’ve taken self-defense and I’ve taught some moves to my daughter, reminding her that she’s a sitting duck if she just wanders down the street looking at her phone, as so many people do. It’s important to stay alert and notice surroundings, so you can see the van hurdling toward a pedestrian pathway, which is sadly more common these days.

To find your world stage, keep yourself safe in your daily life by noticing your surrounding and not listening to instructions asking you to stay put in an emergency.  The authorities may want to maintain order, but in the end, you want to maintain your life, which is far more important than pleasing others.  You may want to not embarrass yourself by jumping in a strangers car for safety, but in the end, keeping safe is more important than looking cool.  The world needs what you have to offer. It’s your job to stay safe.

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Grenfell Towers in flames

Hurt Feelings

When I was little, I learned the old adage, “Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you.” But that was before the internet and social media. Before, we had societal shame and advice columns like Emily Post to chastise people into better behavior and keep civility in check. Now it seems that anything goes. Not only do we have a president who lies regularly and tweets hateful messages, but we have social media filled with trolls, who attack and threaten others for kicks.  Manners and a sense of propriety have been replaced by anonymous haters who go to great lengths to topple authority, threaten women and minorities, and instill fear in everyone else. In addition, we have a situation in which normally nice people who behave well in real life, become thoughtless online, posting pictures from parties that many weren’t invited to. They brag incessantly about their kids’ accomplishments or how “blessed” they are by all the abundance in their lives, hiding all that isn’t working, and leaving us to feel that we truly can’t keep up with the Joneses.

Last fall, Time Magazine wrote an article called “Why We’re Losing the Internet to the Culture of Hate,” stating, “Now if you need help improving your upload speeds, the web is eager to help with technical details, but if you tell it you’re struggling with depression it will goad you into killing yourself.” There are in fact too many cases of sad, lonely teens searching for answers on social media, who find bullies who remind them that they are better off dead. Countless teens have taken their own lives after anonymous trollers on Ask.fm advise them to cut themselves, hang themselves, or “drink bleach and die.” Most parents have no idea this is going on.  Even beyond teens, the internet can be a toxic place for adults.  Anita Sarkeesian, who spoke out against misogyny in video games, received rape threats online and bomb threats at speaking engagements, and Jonathan Weisman, from the New York Times, received so much anti-Semitic hate mail, that he quit Twitter, in spite of 35,000 followers.

Beyond trolls and cyber-bullying, there is a mean-spiritedness that infects social media.  Many people have lost a sense of what is right and good in how we treat others online, even our so called “friends” on Facebook. Last weekend, I found out that I hadn’t been invited to a family friend’s daughters wedding, even though I have known the family for over 15 years, we are regularly in touch, and I was asked last fall for ideas for reception venues. There is nothing like seeing pictures of a wedding you should have been invited to.  It’s like a punch to the gut. But people do this all the time.  A few years ago, a woman I used to know well got married with weddings on both coasts and posted ongoing pictures of the wedding not for a few days or a few weeks but in fact a few months. Three years later, she is still posting wedding pictures. I don’t think anyone would tolerate this offline, but online, it’s a brave new world.

I recently read about a bride who actually emailed all of the people whom she didn’t invite to her wedding before the wedding, explaining in detail why they weren’t invited.  Do we really need to spell out that you’re not as close to your pals from Zumba class? Apparently, “you’re not invited” notifications are becoming increasingly common. I personally blame reality tv shows like Real Housewives and Keeping Up with the Kardashians.  Put a bunch of unintelligent, heavily made up, angry and bored people together and you get season after season of drama and cat fights.  People seem to love these shows the way people love rubber necking.  It’s watching someone else’s misery and feeling better about your own life, but still wishing for their wardrobe. I do wonder what my grandmother “Ganny” would say about all this if she were still alive.  She believed in always being a lady, which meant using good manners at all times, and making one’s guests feel welcome.  Once at a dinner party, a guest spilled red wine on the white table linens and was mortified. So Ganny spilled wine too to make the guest feel better and smooth the situation.  She would be horrified by how people talk and dress and act today, with way too much skin showing, glued to their phones, and bragging and diminishing others at every turn. The fact is that civility is what makes life pleasant. All the characters in Jane Austen novels knew that, but we have somehow forgotten.

To claim your world stage, remember to use the same manners online that you use offline.  People’s feelings matter, and in spite of the adage about sticks and stones, words can hurt. Remember the Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated.  Don’t post pictures of your wedding online and please stop the endless bragging about your kids. You kids don’t like it and neither does anyone else.  And if you encounter a troll, remember that in the end, they will come back in their next life as a cockroach.  Because civility is in short supply, the more classy and gracious you are, the more you will stand out.

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You Do Know

We have this idea that we don’t know what’s right for us. We need to read one more article, or consult our therapist, or check in with friends.  I find with my clients that so often when they say, “I don’t know,” they in fact do know. This seems to be a particular issue with women, who are trained from a young age to check in with others, to please, to test the mood of the room, to fit in. It’s hard to trust what you know when you’re checking on Facebook for what’s in or what’s acceptable or what others like. Often people feel stuck because they have so many parts of their lives that are up in the air, that they can’t figure out what to fix first, since they are all interconnected. I just gave the advice recently to a woman: “If you’re trying to take apart a ball of twisted yarn, you just need to grab onto something and work with that and then other parts of the yarn will loosen a bit, so that you can find the piece that allows the knot to loosen.” It’s the same with us.

I have a client who wants to please her family and friends, who expect her to stay in her little town and get married and have babies, but what she wants is to live all over the world. When she says, “I don’t know,” she is just mourning the fact that she needs to break away from her “tribe” to be true to herself, since she values freedom and adventure and they don’t. A woman I spoke with recently knows that she wants to have a baby and stay home and work part-time, but her fiancé doesn’t want to work a full-time job that would support them, since he is a free spirit.  She is realizing that she knows what she needs may be in conflict with the partner she’s chosen. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but better to know this now than later. Another woman wants to keep working when she gets married and has kids, but now that she’s engaged, everyone else in her life assumes she plans to be barefoot and pregnant, and that terrifies her.  Another client just had a successful art show with great reviews and was excited about moving forward and getting her installation into top museums, but suddenly lost all her confidence this week and questioned whether she should do art at all.  When I gently pointed out the connection between her spending a few days tending to her elderly and very critical mother and doubting herself and her art, she saw the link too.  She knew, but sometimes it takes an outside person to remind us of what we know.

My job is to remind these clients that they do know what they need.  The key is to be brave enough to speak up about what you know and let the chips fall where they may.  That takes courage and staking a claim to what you know is scary.  More than anything, we have a need to belong, and facing criticism or rejection feels like outright abandonment.  I have a friend who was disowned when he told his parents he was gay.  The thought of not fitting in or being accepted is awful. But living a life of “I don’t know” is worse, when you know deep down that you do know and just aren’t willing to say it.

To find your world stage, remember that you are unique. What you need and want is going to be different than many people in the world, in your country, in your state, in your town, on your street, and even in your family.  You may be the only vegan in a family of meat eaters.  You may be the only Republican in your town.  You may be the only poet in a city filled with software engineers.  But your tribe exists somewhere.  You just have to find it.  And in the meantime, every time you say, “I don’t know,” remind yourself that you do in fact know.  You have a right to ask for what you need and want, whether it’s staying home with a baby, or traveling the globe and leaving your little town for good.  You do know.

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