Tag Archives: parenting

The Most Important Shoes

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I closed my eyes. Just for a second because I was driving. The kids were all speaking at the same time. One child was repeatedly asking me to pass a water bottle over to the backseat. The next one was explaining how he reached his ‘superstar’ status at school (a teacher’s recognition for good work) and interrupted himself to quiet his siblings down. The little one was very angry about her pacifier lying on the floor and was shrieking for it. I prayed that I could keep the wheel steady as I passed the water back two rows and grabbed the pacifier quickly thereafter (nearly dislocating my elbow). I popped the pacifier into my toddler’s mouth and now heard just one frustrated little voice.  I told my son to continue his story and to focus on me instead of the previous noise because I WAS listening.

I closed my eyes. Just for a second. I found myself wishing for a little quiet. I was tired after a long work day and in the mood to think. I wanted to mull over a conversation I’d had with an employee, figure out how to effectively support a friend in mourning, and make a mental to-do list for the following day. I wanted to plan out my evening action steps from calling a colleague back to packing lunches. I didn’t want to hear anymore whining or talking or demands. I almost voiced the thoughts running through my mind but then…

I closed my eyes. One last time. This time, when I opened them, I saw what I had missed. The little blessings in the backseat who needed me to be fully present in mind, body, and soul. The strategies, the analysis, the rushing would have to wait. Right then, I needed to be successful with my most important little clients. Success requires me to slow my mind and my pace (not my natural tempo) and smile or shake my head at the right times to listen wholly.

I am so tempted to become absorbed into every other arguably important task and overlook my most important ones. Not just the children but close relationships in general. Judaism asks us to fill the void that only we can fill first. In other words, if someone else can take the phone meeting but only you can visit your sick best friend to cheer her up, then the right path is clear. If someone else can do your laundry and prepare dinner but only you can help your niece with her homework, then your choice is simple. You are the only person who can fill your unique task. Let’s not lose sight of the most important shoes we need to fill: our own.

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Made or Broken: We didn’t sign up for this life. Now what?

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Made or Broken: We didn’t sign up for this life. Now what?

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I was the only woman in an office filled with rabbis when the phone rang. Someone was calling. I picked up the phone.

At 23 years old, my job was to create inspiring programs for Jewish women on the Upper West Side (I was elated). The caller was female and would only speak to a woman. She sounded upset and I wanted to help. I’ve replayed that call many times in my mind over the last decade and know that the responsible thing to do would have been to ask someone older and wiser to call her back. Luckily, I was irresponsible.

Sarah was brought up in a religious home. She was a sweet little girl with her family and a good student in school. She was kind to others and had friends. As she got older, she volunteered in after school activities. She knew that she was a “good girl” and expected to have a good life in return for her efforts. Sadly, in her teenage years, she was exposed to an adult male character who was no good at all. Following high school, when she traveled to Israel for her gap year, she experienced another negative incident.

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Sarah was a good girl and wanted a good life so she tried to shake off her unpleasant encounters. At 21, she was set up with a nice Jewish boy and married him. They had a few children and she tried to build her home and move on with her life. Despite her best efforts and what should have been a happy stage in her life, she felt trapped in her pain and sadness.

Why had God put her in a position to suffer? She was a good girl, after all.

Despite my youth, I knew to validate Sarah’s pain and listen. When she was finished, I told her what I was sure she already knew. Life is not meant to be a stroll in the park. We’re here to work. Life is full of pleasures and we should savor every one but we are meant to climb and develop, rung by rung, to reach the greatest heights we can reach. At times, those rungs come in the form of painful circumstances. We are made or broken by those circumstances.

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She asked what happens if that’s not the kind of life she signed up for? It was not the life she wanted. She preferred to follow the rules and, in exchange, be granted shelter from sadness, anger, and pain. She came into this world with an expectation of an unspoken deal with her Creator. If she’s obedient, then she’s protected from heartache.

We spoke for a long time and ended up keeping in touch for years. I relate to Sarah in that we both share a false expectation. The human experience seems to be hard-wired with a cycle of process, milestone, and then process again. We think we have everything figured out and in that very moment of confidence, the rug is pulled out from underneath, leaving us disoriented and forced to adjust to a new reality. It often comes as a shock and just as often humbles us to our core. I would argue that the rug-pulling may be for the express purpose of jarring us from our feelings of security, confidence, and (perhaps) complacency.

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So many examples come to mind.

  1. Dating- You work so hard to meet The One. When you do, no matter your education, a part of you is sure you’ll ride off into the distance together. Details for the ride are fuzzy. GPS not included.
  2. Parenting- You spend your childhood (just me?) sure you will be the best parent. Then you have a child and realize you are clueless and the most knowledgeable experts in the world have less insight than you do about your child. (Note: That shouldn’t stop us from consulting them).
  3. Personal Development- I finally figured out how to be a good person after years of study and practice only to realize that I’ve mastered an exceptionally narrow lane and I have miles to go.
  4. Reputation- After significant effort invested in community service or professional endeavors, I make a mistake or suffer a humiliation in the presence of others.

I’m really glossing over these big categories but you catch my gist.

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Sometimes, nothing goes wrong but the things that were supposed to go right just never happen. We wake up and look at our lives through the eyes of our past selves. This is NOT what I signed up for. 

If you’re reading this – or if you’re not reading this- you did NOT sign up for your life. You were supposed to have kids by now. You weren’t supposed to get divorced. You were supposed to have a great job that you love. You weren’t supposed to be this old. Your finances were supposed to be better. You weren’t supposed to suffer with physical pain or illness.

So what now?

Dear family, friends, and me: Our lives are not what we signed up for but they are exactly what we need. Your life is tailor-made for what you need right now. The big gaping holes and the terrible messes are by design. So what is life asking of you right now? What are you supposed to be doing?

Maybe you need to focus on healing. Maybe you need to focus on sharing. Perhaps more time doing and less time thinking (perhaps more time thinking and less time doing). Move faster. Invest more. Slow down. Be deliberate. Whatever circumstance you have in front of you, there is something important being asked of you. Someone is calling.

Pick up the phone.

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Bedtime or BUST

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For many parents of young children, the most feared and anticipated portion of each day has a name. It’s alive and we wait for it. You guessed it…Bedtime.

The complexity of  bedtime lies in its duality of good and evil. The evil?  Bedtime takes place at the end of an exhausting sequence of events that are likely to include driving, working (at home or in an office), errands, laundry, phone calls, bills, homework, meals, bathtime. We, I speak for all parents now, are TIRED. Maybe more tired than the kids. Worse yet, the kids are tired- and tired often means cranky (for both parties). To boot, it’s a transition period and transitions are always rough.

The good? There’s a preciousness to bedtime when the children are clean fresh out of a bath, teeth brushed, hair combed. They look so sweet when we give them that final kiss and exchange “good night” and “I love you” to one another. I was chatting with my girlfriend just before I put my kids to sleep the other night and she admitted that a tranq gun would be a helpful weapon at bedtime. (Agreed.) Children have this annoying tendency to be demanding – especially so at 6:45pm- but in those jammies?? Irresistible. The Parents’ Paradox. So there you have it- the scene that repeats itself day-in, day-out. Kids, around the world, are forced on a train heading towards Dream-Land, most children’s least favorite destination point.

One sobering video comes to mind when I think about bedtime that straightens me out quickly. An interview with Chava (Eva) Sandler, a woman who lost her husband and two sons to a horrific act of terror in Toulouse, France nearly two years ago.* The interview was conducted during her first week sitting shiva (mourning) and is incredibly powerful. In it she describes her last night before the attack:

“It’s funny, because when I went to sleep the night before the attack, I told my husband, “Oh no! Tonight was busy and I didn’t say Shema Yisrael (Jewish prayer) with my children (before bed).” Every night I would make sure to say Shema Yisrael with them. Even on Shabbat I would leave the guests behind in order to say Shema Yisrael with the children. That very night I said to my husband, “I wasn’t here on Shabbat because I was with my parents (in Paris). I didn’t say Shema Yisrael with the children since Wednesday, in fact.” And I said, “Okay, tomorrow I’ll get back into routine. This is important!” I see now that even when we are busy, we need to take time.”

The full interview is worth the 5.5 minute watch (link below) and sucker punches my (our?) crabby musings about bedtime in the gut. Bedtime is when we leave our final kisses and comments lingering in a bedroom for ten plus hours. It’s Important. Let’s (attempt to) wipe the exhaustion away from our eyes and savor the last beautiful moments of our little ones’ evenings with infinite gratitude.

*The interview was conducted in Hebrew with English subtitles. Full version can be found here: http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/1816172/jewish/Tragedy-in-Toulouse.htm

Wonder Woman in the Kosher Market

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I was in the local kosher market the other day when I bumped into a woman who’s one of those other-worldly types: a supermom, phenomenal person, community builder, successful with her career, the list goes on ad nauseam. But here’s the thing. I can’t just let someone like that walk by without lifting them up by the lapels and demanding an explanation. So there we were, she dangling two feet in the air and me, direct as ever, shining a bright light in her face to ask my burning question: What’s your secret?

The answer was rather unfortunate. She told me she wakes up every morning at 4:30am to accomplish all her to-dos while the house is still quiet. Now if you’re like me, you’re expecting to encounter a woman who is disciplined about her bedtime to compensate for the ungodly wake up time. No sir, not for this superwoman. Her 9 month old baby isn’t a “good sleeper” which translates into many late nights and every night’s sleep (every night!) brutally interrupted. This strategy for success is particularly regrettable since I can’t see or think straight without a strong cup of coffee (preferably two) first thing. And first thing better not be before 6:00am. Or else Mommy gets angry…very angry.

I guess I haven’t painted myself in the best light but the thought of waking up before the sun to take on the world is laughable. On the other hand, I’d love to grasp some version of the perfection that these rare species of overachieving women flaunt at the kosher market.

On weekday mornings, I set my clock about twenty minutes before my kids wake up which is EARLY. Occasionally, I wake up with my alarm clock and squeeze every second out of my twenty minutes. Some of the time, I press snooze once and wake up fifteen minutes before them. Still pretty good. Once in a while, I wake up just a few minutes before them and scramble to get dressed with one eye open.

But just the act of setting my alarm early to greet my kids with something warmer than an eyes-half-shut frown and some garbled incoherent grunt when they immediately ask for breakfast …that act alone gives me solace. I’ll never be this flashy wonder of a woman (Wonder Woman?) who miraculously keeps hot food freshly made on the stove in an immaculate house with squeaky clean children doing some creative craft that I set up for them. Mrs. Fabulous Homemaker doesn’t mix well with Mrs. Career or Mrs. Fitness or Mrs. Socialite or just the plain old Mrs. Normal (me).

Still, I won’t throw in the towel. One of my favorite speakers and writers, Rabbi Shimshon Pincus, a righteous man of blessed memory, discusses catching a glimmer of lightning. We all want to be lightning. Lightning is that flash and pizzazz that is so impressive and bright- success and perfection in all aspects of life. But, R’ Pincus points out we give up on this aspiration because it feels so unreachable. The idea is to aim for a glimmer. And a glimmer is about all I can swallow right now- I’ll take it. I’ll take it in the form of waking up just 20 minutes early, or greeting frustration with restraint, or just prioritizing the people and ideas I value over my hunger, temperature, limited budget, discomfort, low-energy or exhaustion. Maybe my glimmer will turn into more and I can take baby steps to eventually becoming that Wonder Woman in a kosher market.

What I Learned from Giggling with My Sister

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I drove my sister to the airport today with my children in the back of the car.  Generally speaking, the sound of crying or kvetching drives me crazy but with my sister in the car- all we could do was giggle. Probably because we were once young children ourselves, crying behind our parents in the car. Somehow the lightness of our mood was infectious and everyone was happy (or sleeping) by the time we arrived at the airport. When my sister left, my son commented that he wished she could have stayed in the car a little longer because it was just more fun with her in it. And then it occurred to me. While I can’t always carry my sister around in my pocket (as much as I’d love to!), I can try to carry that lightness no matter what chaos is coming down all around me.

That realization inspired me to let me children finger-paint today. I like a clean house and I like clean kids so this was a novel project for us.  The revelation to “lighten up” despite inconvenience or aggravation prompted a series of fun activities and spirits that added up to a great day. It’s common sense to not let petty things bother us. Day-to-day traffic, outrageous lines, overwhelming bills, toddler tantrums, the list goes on and on of annoying grievances that can ruin our days and ultimately our lives. But then there are those moments– the beautiful ones and the tragic too- that force us to remember what life is really all about and give us opportunities to pull ourselves out of the ruts we create.

Easy dinner recipes for busy weeknights.I’m so looking forward to this week of winter break. The chance to break the cycle of rushing out to a job and rushing home to go through a routine – my pace alone is stressing me out. For workaholics, community activists, mothers with jobs outside of the home, or anyone who just feels spread too thin- the temptation to get really intense about the details is powerful because we depend so heavily on schedules and around-the-clock productivity to get it all done. But we miss out on really living our lives. I had such a great day today because I could let go of the schedule and the concerns over chores, groceries, and laundry since I know I have the week to do them at my convenience. My prayer is I’ll take this lesson with me even after winter break is done, when I’m rushing out the door in the morning, going about my day at work, preparing lunches, cleaning the house, and helping with homework. If I’m struggling, I’ll just pick up the phone and call my sister to exhale…and giggle.