My Baby was Reading Harry Potter at Two Days Old

My sons were walking at 8 months old… They were potty-trained at 2, reading in Kindergarten and driving the day they turned 16.  Well, not exactly. In fact, these were comments I hearboyd from fellow mommies about their kids while I sat back questioning why my kids weren’t up to speed.  

As long as my kids have been on this Earth, they have been “behind the curve”. They were in no hurry to leave my belly; I had to evict them. They took their first steps around 14 months, potty-trained at 3 ½, began to read late in the 3rd grade, and one of them will have their driver’s license at 17, and other one got his at 18. They simply have never been in a rush for any of the chart-worthy moments. 

This was so challenging in the early years; I couldn’t help but worry. With all of the photos on Facebook and the books with all the charts, I felt compelled to compare and concerned that maybe I was doing something to cause this discrepancy. I felt so inadequate as a mom knowing my kids were behind the projected norms. But fortunately, I got a clue and realized that there are very few norms when it comes to kids; even their teeth fall out at different rates.  Every kid is so unique and amazing, and they do their own thing in their own time.

Having raised my sons, who have steadily flowed down their own path, on their own timetable, I learned that it is my job as a mom to “hold the space” for them to grow and be exactly who they are. As a parent, holding the space simply means to love and support them while they grow, knowing that they will do everything they need to do in their own time. 

These milestones, in fact, aren’t necessarily better when they happen faster, they are better when they happen at the right time. For example, when my son turned 16 he told me he didn’t want to drive.  He had some fears about the road, and who could blame him with all the people in such a hurry going nowhere. I could have pushed him to drive sooner, it would have made my life easier, but if I had, who knows what may have happened.  Being a new driver is challenging enough, let alone being a driver who doesn’t feel safe on the road.  He turned 18, we bought him a car and now he is a driver.  He drove on his timetable, not the state’s, not mine, not his Dad’s or his brothers.

My kids started school late too. They were born in September and November, and when you’re born in the Fall, your parents have a choice to send you to Kindergarten at age 4 or 5, just before your next birthday.  We knew our kids were still very into play and dressing up, and the thought of taking that time away from them to put them into a structured environment, wasn’t the right choice for them. It would have been easier for us for many reasons, but we followed our instincts and kept them home the extra year. As it turned out, it has made perfect sense as we watch their lives unfold.

We live in a fast-paced world, there’s a lot of pressure on us adults to keep pace, and in turn, we tend to put that same pressure on our kids. I try to imagine how I would feel having somebody behind me, trying to push me and make me grow before I’m ready to grow.  It makes me feel very uneasy and defensive. So rather than worrying about my kids keeping up, I now walk beside them with love and pride at who they are in each moment. I hold the space for them to grow, and I breathe.


‪I’m Right, You’re Wrong

There was a time, a big chunk of my life actually, when I was angry as hell! I can’t pinpoint the exact cause of this anger, my life wasn’t that bad compared to most, but I was mean! Unfortunately for those around me, this anger came with an obsession to be right. 
I had to be right at all costs; nobody could outdo me in an argument. I would battle to the end, and I would never give up! Losing an argument was just not an option. In fact, if a fight wasn’t resolved before I went to sleep, I would start it back up first thing in the morning. I would lose a ton of sleep too, going over my strategy in my head the night before, while playing out the next day’s argument in detail (as if I knew exactly how it would all play out). I was pretty confident in my arguing skills, and I was proud. 

They say that underneath most anger there is either fear or sadness. I wasn’t interested in feeling either, thank you very much. The arguments were a source of power for me. The adrenalin would soar. I would feel a ton of energy and it made me feel invincible. And then shortly after, I would crash (just like eating sugar, which I also did frequently). I was destroying all of my relationships, of course, but I felt strong and powerful. Convincing the other person that I was right was all that mattered to me!

Crazy, huh?

Then one day something shifted. I was arguing with somebody and I actually conceded and let them win! I didn’t have the energy to fight back.  

What was happening to me?

I suddenly noticed that I felt a lot less stressed. I hadn’t used my entire day’s bank of energy to fight back, I had energy to spare and I avoided that big crash too! I shook my head and thought to myself “was being right worth all of the energy I expended on it?” I didn’t want to have to give up my reign as “the rightest person ever”, but I also didn’t want to live my life exhausted by all the mood fluctuations.  

I decided to do one of my social experiments because I needed some cold hard statistics; I am a Capricorn after all. I needed to know if being right was worth destroying relationships and exhausting my energy by noon each day. Believe it or not, this was a hard decision at that moment in my life. I had many opportunities to fight, sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn’t, and what I gleaned from my research was a resounding “NO!” Being right was not worth the fall out at all.

I know to some, this is obvious, but to me it wasn’t until this point. It felt so important to me to be right for so long, nobody could have convinced me otherwise. It was so much a part of my identity. Even if somebody else was right, I couldn’t hear their side or even consider it. The only thing that mattered to me was being right. Little did I know, it only made me and the people in my life suffer.

Finally it dawned on me that having peace in my relationships meant so much more than being right, and it gave me the space to pause, breathe and focus on the other person’s viewpoint. I could look in their eyes and hear what they were saying, and I no longer felt the need to be right or even to get my viewpoint across. My life became so much more peaceful and my relationships became stronger. I no longer have that drive to be right, it simply doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. 

Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t let the people in my life walk all over me, I just take more time to listen and understand the world through their viewfinder, and breathe. 

Dear Old Dad…How to Survive a Turbulent Childhood

IMG_5841My father passed away when I was ten years old, and to say he wasn’t a perfect parent would be an understatement.  He was both drug and sex addicted, and was rarely at home.  When he was around though, he could be really fun and spontaneous; washing everybody in the neighborhoods hair in the kitchen sink, letting us soap our own windows on Devil’s Night, and putting my sister on top of the refrigerator when she stepped on a nail and then proceeding to soak her foot in cottage cheese.

And then there was the other side…

He could be incredibly volatile; screaming at us in the back seat of the car to “shut the bleep up” while he took a hit off of a joint (with the windows up), ordering my brother to go upstairs to get the belt out of his closet so he could whoop my brother (that had to be the longest walk ever), and losing his mind because after scrambling some eggs, he decided to get creative and flip the eggs in the air, and they went all over the floor (I’m not sure he thought that one out).  His behavior was erratic and we walked on egg shells whenever he was around.  He scared the heck out of me, and to this day I have PTSD-like symptoms when I’m around somebody who exhibits excessive mood swings.

He was far from perfect, but today I can say with confidence that he did his best. 

Now, it took me a very long time to buy into this “he did his best” concept.  It felt like a cop-out at first. “Why couldn’t he do better?” I would think to myself.  “He had to know better.”  “He had to know he was hurting us, and himself.”  “He had to know the drugs and his decisions were tearing our family apart.”  But in truth, he was a broken man who didn’t know how to do better or he would have.  His parents never taught him how to love, and when my dad was a very young boy his mother gave him and his siblings the responsibility of watching over their even younger brother, who sadly got hit by a car and died on their watch.  His mother blamed them, and there was tremendous guilt and shame in the family after he died.  It was clear that my father never found a way to forgive himself.

I felt a huge weight lift off of me once I understood where my father was coming from and why he acted the way he did.  I felt even better once I was able to forgive him because I knew in my heart he did his best.  And yet, I still felt a lot of anger and sadness around it, so of course, I had no place left to look but inside.

What were the stories I was still holding on to in relation to my dad? 

What were my expectations when it came to my dad?  (Expectations are something that often cause me suffering, so I knew there was something related to expectation at the bottom of this).

I’ve never met a perfect parent.  I certainly am not, my kids would be the first to tell you, but I can say for certain that I am 100% committed to showing my kids that they are loved. Unfortunately, my father was not quite as committed.   As a result, most of my life, I longed for the type of love I thought the perfect father would provide.  I longed to be loved by a father with great strength, who spent his days committed to his family and who would do just about anything to protect them.  I longed for a father who would give sage advice, who would show me I was loved, who would walk me down the aisle at my wedding, who would look at me with pride in his eyes the way father’s do when they’re watching their children, and most of all, who would show me that I’m worthy. 

I continued to experience anger and sadness until I was willing to look at these stories to see how they were holding these feelings securely inside of me.  What I came away with, after doing some digging, was that it was my job to love me, to know my worth, to be proud of myself, to trust in my own instincts and to know what’s best for me.  This was revolutionary!  But the more I thought about it, the more I knew that nobody else could possibly know what is best for me or give me what my own intuition naturally provides.  And once I took responsibility for my own life, I found great strength in becoming that provider and protector of myself and my family. 

One final step…I still wasn’t there.

Like my father, I still needed to forgive myself.  I needed forgive myself for believing the stories I told myself.  I needed to forgive myself for waiting around for somebody else to rescue me and guide me, when I already had all of the tools I needed to do that for myself.  I needed to forgive myself for believing that all fathers are perfect, all knowing and loving beings.  Most of all, I needed to forgive myself for believing that my father should have put his family first before his addictions and pain.  That was just not the reality – because he didn’t. 

Once I peeked under the hood of my stories, pinpointed my unrealistic expectations, forgave myself for my false beliefs, saw my father for who he really was and forgave my father, I felt free.  Ironically, this path lead me to be more forgiving of myself as a parent, because like my father, I am doing my best. 

Hippie Academy – Freedom Gone too Far!

I was in the third grade at Middlebelt Elementary School, a public school, when my father apparently had a disagreement with the principal, and the principal told him he was crazy. This was not the first time somebody called my dad crazy, by the way, but this time the situation got heated and my father told the principal that he would be removing his children from school. So, what is a hippie dad to do – take his kids to “the Free School”, of course.

bus 2The Free School was a school that basically didn’t have any teachers, per se, but definitely had a few adults roaming around keeping an eye on things. There was also no teaching going on, there was just this honor system type style of “teaching”. They gave us a math book and told us to complete the pages when we felt moved to do so and then we were to place a check mark on the board when it was complete. Thank goodness for the check marks because the inner pleaser in me had to know that somebody knew I was doing the right thing.

I don’t recall any art or music classes, but we did swim once a week in the city pool and watch movies.  And then there was that one “naked massage” class where two naked hippies walked into the room with a massage table and told us they were going to “teach” us how to do massage – now they decide to teach us something! They asked for volunteers and my siblings and I, with wide-eyes, declined.

I have to laugh imagining this going on today.  Helicopters would be flying above the school and the police would have them on the ground, in handcuffs, before they even had the chance to ask for volunteers.  It was the 70’s though, and it was sort of an anything goes kind of era, at least where I grew up.

I don’t recall why we left the Free School, but I am fairly certain it had nothing to do with the naked massage lesson. Looking back, I don’t think we even told our parents, we just wanted to forget it ever happened. We went back to public school, and we were understandably behind and a little embarrassed, but like every experience in life there was a gift.

There was a really nice mix of kids from various backgrounds at the Free School, and that showed me early on that there are all types of people living in all types of situations, and one is not better than the next, just different. This lesson prepared me for having to attend ten different schools after the Free School with a generous mix of cultures in each.

I quickly learned to trust my instincts too when I was asked to volunteer in the massage class. This was one of my first memorable experiences of feeling my instincts deep down inside my gut and trusting them.  That’s a feeling I will never forget, it has served me well.

Finally, I learned self-reliance while taking it upon myself to learn math, even though I did it to please others (another lesson I learned over and over later in life). I needed to know how to rely upon myself just two years later when my father passed away, and so the Free School was simply the practice I needed for “the Big Show”.

We often have experiences that come into our lives quickly and move out just as fast, leaving us with memorable and meaningful lessons.  They are short and sweet. I’m grateful that in the three short months I attended the Free School, I learned many valuable lessons, aside from math, that have stayed with me throughout my life.

Son Opens his Heart While Teaching Mom to Face her Fears

104Losing my daughter, Syndee, was life’s way of smacking me across the head and reminding me just how miraculous life, and childbirth in particular, truly are. As terrified as I was, I wanted to have another baby immediately. I was so nervous, in fact, I held my breath the entire time I was pregnant with Jake; which is kind of ironic since I regularly remind people to ‘just breathe’. The day I brought him home from the hospital, I sat on the kitchen floor and cried for hours, and not just weeping, deep animalistic crying that erupted like a volcano.  I couldn’t have stopped it from coming out if I tried.

Two years later, Jonah was born, and by that time some of my fears began to fade.  I was grateful for my two sons and I started to feel as if everything worked out just as it was meant to be; until our pediatrician discovered that Jonah had a heart murmur.  My fears came rushing back with immense force. “I cannot lose another child!” “I could never handle that kind of pain again!” Thoughts fiercely bounced around in my head.

We went to see a pediatric cardiologist and they revealed that Jonah had what is referred to as a subaortic stenosis; an obstruction or narrowing at the outlet of the lower left chamber of the heart, just below the aortic valve. My fears were raging by this point! 

Jonah required regular visits to the cardiologist to monitor the progression. Every appointment was filled with fear and anxiety because we knew one day he would indeed need surgery. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when. At the end of each appointment, the doctor advised us to come back the following year, and there was a collective sigh as we walked out of the hospital exhausted from all the stress. 

Right around Jonah’s 11th birthday he appeared to be slowing down. This was a kid who played at 120% at all times and didn’t stop playing just because he was out of breath.  There was a glaring difference we could see and he could feel.  I’ll never forget the day he told me he wasn’t feeling right and that everything felt harder; breathing, running, playing.  My heart sank.  We both knew what that meant.

The cardiologist confirmed our suspicions; it was time for the surgery. Imagine having to look in your child’s eyes as the doctor is telling him that he is going to have open heart surgery – it was gut-wrenching! If there was anything I could have done to trade places with Jonah, I would have done it.

A few days prior to the surgery, the hospital staff took Jonah on a tour of the hospital. He met the doctors and nurses who would be taking care of him, got a chance to see where he’d be staying and discovered the all-you-can-eat, on-demand menu and the video collection. And then, the doctors asked him if he had any questions about the surgery. My first reaction was “No, don’t tell him anymore, you’ll freak him out!” But he wanted to know details, and as it turned out, it helped him to feel like part of the team that was making the decisions. It gave him a sense of control which apparently put him at ease to some extent. Of course, he almost passed out when they drew blood that day, and to this day he breaks out in a cold sweat and gets woozy from a prick on the finger. Go figure.

The night before the surgery I obsessed over the possible scenarios of how the morning might play out. I envisioned Jonah crying hysterically, clinging to the headboard with all his might, begging me not to make him go. I envisioned throwing him over my shoulder like a cave-woman and dragging him to the car. My imagination was running wild. In reality, he woke up the morning of his surgery, got dressed and walked to the car without a peep. He faced his fears head on! I was in awe as I watched him, and in watching him I gained the strength I needed to be the strong mom he needed me to be. It was a beautiful thing!

Jonah was in the hospital for five days and out of school for a month.  Within four days of being home he refused to take any more pain medication. Within two weeks he was negotiating with me to let him “gently” throw the football around with his brother, and if you knew my boys, you would know there is no such speed as “gentle”. He was, in the truest sense, living in the moment. No pain; no pain medication. I feel like playing ball; let’s play ball. He wasn’t thinking about the past or the future. Kids are the best teachers!

This was a life changing moment for Jonah, one that would show him how strong he was and what he had the ability to overcome. It taught him that life can get a little crazy, but that nothing lasts forever. To this day, he walks through life in the moment with little fear; maybe because he’s already faced his worst fear.

As a mom, I am incredibly proud having seen my son go through this intense experience with such grace and fearlessness. He taught me so much. Two years later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and one of my biggest fears was telling my kids.  We had been through a lot and the thought of putting more on their young plates was excruciating. But, because I saw the strength it gave Jonah to know the truth during his surgery, I knew the best thing was to be honest and up front with them. 

When I told Jonah, he said, “Mom, I’m not worried, my surgery was way worse than yours.” He was right, and from that moment on, I felt as though I could handle anything. If my 11-year-old could handle open-heart surgery, I could handle this. Watching him face his fears head on gave me the strength to face mine.

Grandfather’s Unorthodox Methods Teach Fearlessness

My Papa Sam had a very distinct teaching style. I think Nike’s “Just do it” sums it up. When I learned to ride a bike, Papa Sam held onto the back of my bike running down the street with me, for about three seconds, and then he pushed my down the hill (which in retrospect was probably not so much a hill but more like a dip in the road, but it felt like a hill at the time). Trust me when I tell you I learned how to ride a bike right then and there. 
The same thing took place when he taught me to swim and dive. He picked me up at three years old, threw me in the pool and somehow knew I would survive. There was nothing but faith in my Papa Sam’s eyes – he knew that I would succeed without a doubt.
While I didn’t take this approach with my own children, I value the beauty in his methods. He taught me to relentlessly face my fears. This came rushing back to me while I was on the top of a ropes course, having to jump from one plank to another in midair while grabbing a rope in between, 100 feet or more off the ground, to then swing to the other side. It was scary as hell, but somewhere deep down I was prepared for that day because of my Papa.

He also taught me to allow my children to face their fears while letting go and allowing them to experience their own lives. This is amazing because I have a son who loves to jump and flip and fly through the air as often as possible, just like his Mama. And if you have children, you know the hardest thing for a parent to do is to let their child learn something new, on their own, without sending them on their way covered in bubble wrap!

Despite Papa Sam’s unorthodox style of teaching, I felt nothing but love and a sense of comfort from him. He was an extraordinarily loving man, who thankfully did not pass fear on to future generations.