Love Is All

Usually on Mother’s Day, our kids make cards for me and we do something special. But as my grandmother used to say to my father when he was little, “If you’re not going to be nice to me every day, then don’t bother with Mother’s Day.” I do feel that the overpriced brunches and corsages are a little much and not what women want. We want appreciation, and someone else to do the dishes and clean the bathrooms.

Somehow on Father’s Day, which is today, we tend to let things slide. Since it’s part of the mad-dash of year-end activities, the day often gets short shrift. This year we’re not really celebrating today because my daughter is on a school trip in Spain and my son is writing as much as he can for a musical he’s submitting to his school tomorrow for consideration for next year’s theatre season. Since I’m writing the music with him, that’s what I’m doing today, as well as sexy things like returning something that’s broken to Amazon, and contacting the doctor to fill out medical forms, and going through piles of papers. Since the laundry is overflowing, my husband is doing load after load even though it’s supposed to be his special day. This is why I love my husband. He’s not sitting around glued to the television, wondering when his snacks and beers are going to be delivered. He’s scrambling around trying to help us so that everything gets done. Given how much he’s been traveling lately, it is amazing to not only around have him around, but to have him do chores so that I can keep my sanity.

Here’s what I have to say to any of my female readers: the guy you want to marry should be the guy you’re attracted to and best friends with and someone who makes you laugh. But he should also be the one who does laundry on Father’s Day and is as happy to mow the lawn as he is to cook a Julia Child’s meal. The guy who knows how to craft the perfect email when there is a problem, whether with a teacher or a workman. The guy who can comfort a crying baby and intervene with a moody teenager.

Recently, I had my first professional singing gig in 12 years, and it was a huge success– standing room only and such tremendous applause, that I wish I could have bottled it. My parents got to be there, which is special since they live 3,000 miles away. And my son got to hear me for the first time in his memory. (My daughter will have to see me next time since she was still in Spain.) A lot of the audience said that their favorite song was one of the originals I played, called Billy and Me, which is a love song I wrote for my husband when we were first married. Twenty five years later, it still applies, and in fact more so. There is nothing sexier than a guy who is a great dad and who really supports his wife so that she can be a happy person.  Here are the lyrics to the chorus:

Love is all I know/Take me wherever you go

Love is all I see/Cause you take in all of me

So in honor of all the wonderful men out there who are great dads, here’s to you. A big part of finding your world stage, is being that person who allows others to claim their world stage as well, both children finding their way and wives needing the space to reclaim theirs.

HPIM2501_1.jpgThis is our family 12 years ago, right after I had stopped performing, since I was focusing on these guys.


Pace Yourself

December is one of my favorite months.  In addition to Christmas, it’s always been the season of birthdays in our family.  My great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mom, my nephew, and my daughter were all born this month. When my husband and I were dating seriously and discussing children, however, I said, “I just hope we don’t have a December baby.  There’s too much already going on that month.”  But five days before Christmas, my first born arrived.  I naively had thought that having a December baby simply meant remembering to wrap birthday gifts in non-Christmas wrapping, but I hadn’t thought about birthday parties. That adds a whole other layer to the holidays.

Although I’m not a runner, I hear my friends who compete in marathons talk about the importance of pacing themselves, so they don’t burn out early in the race because they started out too fast.  The same thing is true for December.  We need to pace ourselves.  And even though the holidays may feel like a race, they are in fact not.  And yet there is some kind of crazy Keeping Up With the Joneses that I feel during the holidays that I don’t feel other times of year.  We don’t have outdoor lights or elegant reindeer statues in our yard.  We don’t have cascades of ribbons and ornaments on our banister.  Our house is decorated but not like the White House, not even close.  Instead, I’m trying to pace myself for the next few weeks so that I can stay healthy and sane.

My day today was what a typical day looks like in many families with working parents and kids. The dishwasher was replaced as I was trying to get work done, while emailing and calling our mortgage company to get a necessary trust letter, while I was on hold for our travel flights, while I was planning my daughter’s birthday parties. (She’s having two- don’t ask.)  I had a phone date with a friend but couldn’t find my cell phone because I had made our bed over the phone.  (Thankfully, I was able to call my number from another phone and listen for the muffled ring under the sheets.  It was the buzzing that gave it away.) The lawn care people came to get rid of our leaves and clean the gutters and while I was talking with them, the doctor’s office called about scheduling my routine mammogram, all of this while I was trying to work. My son’s two friends arrived tonight for dinner before their first dance, my daughter has a swim meet tomorrow, we have church and a Handel Messiah on Sunday, and the following weekend we are having the two separate birthday parties within 24 hours, in addition to a client’s art opening. The weekend after that, we have three Christmas parties, a swim meet, a celebration at Sturbridge, and my daughter’s actual birthday before we head to California for Christmas.  (It does sound like a crazy version of the Twelve Days of Christmas!) I bet others of you have an even busier schedule and yet you do manage to put outside lights up.  (See how we beat ourselves up?)

I know my parents’ generation shakes their heads at ours, reminding us that they weren’t as scheduled and busy in the 80’s.  I’m not sure that’s true.  My dad worked every weekday in the weeks surrounding Christmas except for the day after for decades.  And then he was washing windows and getting groceries for the various houseguests and dinner guests.  My mom worked 60 hour weeks as my eighth grade teacher. (She was an amazing teacher, because she taught her students to really think and to write well, something that’s rare to find these days.) And yet she still put on much more elaborate parties than we do and made it all seem easy.  I admire that but have come to accept that that is just not where my talents lie.

In this busy season, it’s important to remember that the point is not to get through our “to do” lists and to rush through the mall and to get to January in one piece.  The point is to pace ourselves so that we can enjoy the ride, whether it’s taking pictures of 6th grade boys before their first dance, or accepting that sometimes teenage girls need two birthday parties– one for old friends and one for new, since they don’t know each other and it’s just easier. We also want to pace ourselves so that we can remain kind and open in a season in which there are lots of people who are sad or lost.  Let’s remember to hold doors open for people and be extra nice to receptionists (what a tough job!) and use some of our time and money for the needy.  We give money to charity and church every month, but at Christmas, we like to have our kids choose toys for poor children so that our kids always remember to be grateful.

To find your world stage, remember to pace yourself.  As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and neither is your life or your dreams.  Remember to enjoy the ride, so that when you arrive at your destination you can remember with fondness whom you knew and loved  and what you experienced along the way.





Bad Mommy

Yesterday I took my kids to the new dentist for a second time in a week for a follow up appointment. Both the dentist and dental hygienist said the nicest thing to me:”You’re such a good mom.  Your kids are so polite and well-behaved.  That’s not something we see in this office that much, which is sad.”  And then the dental hygienist actually put her hands together and started clapping for me, saying “Good job!”  While the clapping felt a little over the top, I was grateful for praise for my parenting, something I and most other mothers almost never get.  My own parents are always quick to tell me that I’m doing a good job, but other than that, it’s rare indeed.

Last week I went to the new movie “Bad Moms” with my mom.  I thought it was hilarious and spot on in terms of how much is expected of modern mothers.  We are expected to be well-presented and calm at all times, to bake homemade, organic, gluten and nut and dairy free snacks at the drop of a hat, and to be happy with all the balls constantly thrown at us. So often I will hear moms talk about other moms behind their backs, saying that so and so is a bad mom because…. fill in the blank.  She works too much, she doesn’t work enough; her kids are too scheduled or she’s not giving them enough opportunities;  she’s too frumpy or she’s too hot to be safely around the other dads.  (I have been guilty of judging other moms as harshly as I judge myself too.) Can you imagine a similar conversation about dads, saying that that guy is a bad dad because he doesn’t work enough or he works too much or he’s too cute or not cute enough?  It would be frankly absurd.  As my husband Bill says, “It takes very little work to be rated an A dad.” All dads have to do is just have a job, kick or throw a ball around with the kids and make pancakes on Sunday. For moms, the list is too long to recount.  Let’s just say that’s why so many moms are so tired, and if they are not– and are particularly perky all the time– there’s a good chance that there is some chemical enhancement going on, whether pills or booze or “medical marijuana.”

The newest research on how children learn is by understanding the importance of a growth mindset; in other words, students thrive when they realize that trying hard matters as much if not more than genetic smarts.  Parents are to praise in specific ways, such as, “You worked really hard on that drawing” as opposed to saying, “You’re a great painter.”  This encourages kids to value effort and persistence and grit, so that they don’t give up too easily, thinking they don’t have what it takes.  What if we did the same for Moms?  Instead of telling mothers that they are either good moms or bad moms, what if we all acknowledged that all moms are good and bad, just as all people are both good and bad? I know one mom who builds an entire gingerbread house from scratch with her family every Christmas.  I tried the Trader Joe’s kit one year with my then 2 year-old (while pregnant with my other one) and we needed soup cans in the end to hold up the walls.  I know other moms who rock climb and do off-trail skiing with their kids.  I don’t ski or rock climb– it gives me hives thinking about high adventure sports.  But I sing and write songs and record with my kids.  I was queen of the dress up adventures when they were little and I encouraged both my kids to write plays and stories.  We make homemade gifts every Christmas and extensive valentines in February.  Still, there are so many things I don’t do– I don’t knit, I don’t give elaborate parties, I don’t run the PTO, I don’t cook or bake with my kids–but I read all of “Great Expectations” last year to my kids in different cockney voices, we travel a lot with them, and I am big on snuggling and making forts.

As you carve out time to contemplate your world stage, think about what you’re good at and what you’re bad at, what you admire about yourself and others, and what you’re not so crazy about.  The more we can acknowledge the yin and the yang and the good and the bad of ourselves and others, the more we can cut ourselves and others much more slack.  So go out this week and let yourself be a little bad, so that you don’t always have to be so good.


The Best Gift

As Mother’s Day approaches, I always feel some disdain toward the Hallmark aspect of the day, with the overpriced brunches and the uncomfortable corsages.  Shouldn’t mothers be celebrated more than once a year at a fancy brunch?  Mothers need to be praised more regularly and more boldly, perhaps with banners proclaiming what we really want to hear, like “You go girl!  You rock!”  I can hear my husband and kids snickering, since that’s pretty unlikely.  And yet, we moms in the day-to-day trenches of mothering could really use that.

Instead, we beat ourselves up for our missteps and imperfections and judge other mothers mercilessly, competing with them over whose child is more outstanding.  Is it any wonder that many of us are exhausted trying to keep up? We feel anxious that we can never be good enough, no matter what we do.  But what would happen if we cut ourselves and others some slack? I notice how often mothers are complimented with, “You’re such a great mom.”  What does that really mean?  I’m a good mom in some areas, like teaching kindness and manners, but in other areas, like baking with my kids or volunteering 24/7, frankly I’d rather take a nap.  Am I like the mom in my neighborhood who once was up all night delivering babies as an OB/GYN, got almost no sleep, but still emerged the next morning perfectly coiffed with homemade goodies for the second grade class? Um, no.  I hadn’t been delivering babies all night– just wrestling my kids into bed the night before, and the baked items I brought in looked a bit lopsided, even though they tasted good.

Last night, the other mom in our car pool just simply forgot to pick up our daughters.  She was busy and distracted and her cell phone died and she just forgot.  Our daughters ended up having to wait around for an hour before they could find anyone with a phone, since the dance academy doesn’t have one and the teacher and other students had left their phones at home.  The girls were bored and slightly anxious, but they figured it out.  But the mom was beside herself once she realized she had forgotten and apologized profusely, saying, “It will never happen again.”  I said to her, “Stop being so hard on yourself. You don’t know if it’s going to happen again.  It might happen with you or with me and it’s not a big deal.  Think of all the times we did the car pool right this year.”  The mom seemed so surprised by my response and it then it struck me.  We are all so hard on each other that very few of us are offering grace, which is what we need.

So here’s to the moms all over the world– whatever color or religion or country or culture– we are all deserving not only of acknowledgment for all that we do, but grace as well.  That is the best Mother’s Day gift of all.

Here is my favorite poem by Mary Oliver called “Wild Geese.”



You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Saying No Is Good

I was thinking about how often we as people don’t like to say no, particularly women.  We want to be nice and helpful.  We want to be liked.  We want to be the person who can make it happen for others, who creates the magic and saves the day.  But what is the cost to ourselves and others?  I had a client once tell me that she just wanted to make her teenage son happy.  In the moment, it felt great to say yes.  Her son was passionate about the arts and had talent, but lacked resilience and resisted criticism from anyone, even teachers trying to help him. He was eager to be in a residential arts program that was very competitive and had never been away from home, but even the process of auditioning was too much for him.  She didn’t want to say no, because she always said yes, but she realized on some level that he wasn’t likely to make it through three weeks of a grueling competitive camp and that it could actually be harmful to him.  But she did it anyway because she couldn’t say no.

Most of us would not let our toddlers run into the street, but how many of us have the courage to say no to coed sleep-overs?   Or to letting our kids live at home after college for years on end because they can’t find “meaningful” work, when maybe the goal should just be getting a job now and finding meaning later?

When you think of the metaphor of the helicopter parents hovering over kids’ lives, even when their kids are adults, what happens if the helicopter gets too close?  The swirling blades can hurt or kill anyone nearby.  I’ve heard of parents buying property near their kids’ college so they can be there to help and intervene.  My husband, who is a professor, has heard about professors getting calls from parents asking for a grade change for their child.  And employers complain about parents calling them about a job offer or a promotion.  I hear these stories and wonder if parents know that they are crippling their kids.

But beyond parents wanting to please their kids, saying no is essential for your well-being,  regardless of whether you have kids or not.  If you want to claim your world stage, you’ll need to say no to everything that is not an absolute yes.  As you launch a business, for instance, you need let go of volunteering for a while and tv and time-consuming hobbies.  There are, after all, only so many hours in the day. If you don’t decide how you spend your time, others will happily decide for you.  The same goes for money.  If you don’t decide what your financial priorities are, many businesses will be happy to decide for you.

What if we were to think of saying no to others as saying yes to ourselves?  What if saying  no to our kids, meant saying yes to their future?  We’d have a very different world, one in which our children could say “What can I do for the world?” as opposed to “What does the world owe me?”

Try it today.  Say no to everything that is not an absolute yes for you.  And then wait for magic.  You may find that you start spontaneously dancing.