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.

Walking Humbly Through the Looking Glass of Self-Righteousness

During my midlife crisis, which started when I was around 37 and ran well into my 40’s, I dove head first into spirituality, among other things.  I was determined to “find myself”!

Kabbalah was one of the most significant teachings that came across my path, and I still live each day rooted in its principles.  As part of my studies, I decided to throw caution to the wind and take a trip to Israel with the Kabbalah Center.  I couldn’t wait to go, until I got there and realized how alone I was, in spite of the fact that there were thousands of us traveling together. 

I eventually met up with two sisters and their friend, Mike, and we all spent the day together.  It was a great day filled with exploring, eating and shopping, and I finally felt more connected to the experience.  A little over half way through the day, the two sisters return to the hotel, and Mike and I decided to spend the rest of the day together.  We had a lot of fun, until the walk back to the hotel.  I was tired and bitchy and my feet felt like they were on fire because I wore the worst possible shoes!  I don’t recall what I said to upset Mike, but I must have said something that wasn’t very nice.  He responded by saying, “You are so self-righteous!” 

“What did he just say?”  “Is he serious?”  “He doesn’t even know me!”  I thought to myself as I became increasingly irritated and defensive.  “How dare he say that, I’m a nice person!”  “What a jerk!”  “%*&^$#%^@!” But then something happened that I had never experienced before.  I took a few deep breaths and thought to myself “Am I self-righteous?”  When I got quiet and looked inside I could see HE WAS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, I WAS SELF-RIGHTEOUS!  I never realized I was self-righteous before and nobody ever had the guts to tell me, but I can assure you, they were thinking it!

Mike woke me up to the fact that I was self-righteous; previously I was in the dark and had no choice but to continue to be.  I recognized for the first time that hearing something seemingly negative about myself was actually a precious gift.  I heard teachers mention this concept, but I thought they were all crazy.   “How could an insult ever be a good thing?”

This realization drove me to do a mini social experiment; this is how I “prove” everything before I buy into it, maybe this was just a fluke after all.  I started paying attention to the comments people made to me, to others and the reactions these comments elicited.  Sometimes people got defensive, I observed, and sometimes they didn’t.  Once I made a mental spreadsheet of my findings, I came to the conclusion that in every negative comment there are two very important things to consider.

First, if somebody says something offensive to me, my job is to look inside to see if it’s true.  I have found that if I get even the slightest bit defensive, there is some truth in what they are saying or else I wouldn’t feel the need to defend.  The next step is to be honest with myself so I can see where it is true.  The gift here is in knowing oneself.  If we know ourselves intimately, it’s easier to create healthy boundaries, and as a result, we are able to truly love ourselves and do what is in our best interest.  

Secondly, I have to remember that they are very likely telling me exactly how they feel about themselves.  In this case, I am their mirror, and they are seeing in me the things they haven’t resolved.  As they say, “If you spot it, you got it.”  If they are awake to the fact that I’m their mirror, they win too, because now they are clear about something they needed to see in themselves.  It’s a beautiful thing!

It may not always be crystal clear or an exact comparison.  For example, if somebody calls me disrespectful.  My first thought is, “Am I being disrespectful?”  Chances are I am if someone is calling me on it.  My next thought is, “What am I showing them in my mirror that they need to see?”  It may be that they are disrespectful, and it’s that simple.  But perhaps they are being disrespectful to themselves by putting others needs in front of their own, or by overeating, overspending or overworking.  It’s possible they are having thoughts that are disrespectful towards themselves; they aren’t thinking or speaking kind words about themselves. In most cases, I noticed during my social experiment, the two people are brought together to help each other.  In my case, I realized he was right, I am self-righteous.  I’m incredibly grateful to know this because I don’t want to be.  I also realized that I was his mirror because he was self-righteous too.  I hope he also received the gift of knowing that night, but that’s his business, not mine.

Learning I was self-righteous was an amazing gift a stranger gave to me in the 12 hours we spent together, and this gift has permanently changed my perspective.  Now when somebody gives me a piece of their mind, I really listen. I wait for the sting to go away and then I dive in because I want to know the truth.  Ignorance is not bliss. 

The next time somebody throws an insult at you, consider looking inside to see if it’s true, and also consider having compassion for the person who said it to you because now you know the truth about how they feel about themselves deep down. Just keep in mind, it’s not your job to point it out to them. We all have our own path and our own learning curve. As tempted as you may be to share your findings with them, be grateful for the gift and just breathe.

It’s all his Fault!

It was the middle of the night, and I found myself crouched down next to the stove in my tiny kitchen, sobbing. My heart was aching like somebody was stomping on it with all their might. “He isn’t making me happy!” “I need to get out of this marriage, right now!” Incessant thoughts played on a loop running through my head. “It’s his fault I’m sad, he works too much!” “It’s his fault I’m angry, he doesn’t make enough money!” “It’s his fault our marriage isn’t working; he doesn’t tell me he loves me enough!” “I don’t want to face another minute of this pain he is causing me!” “How could he do this to me?”

“I wonder what would happen if I ran away and never looked back.” Except I was seven months pregnant, and running away wasn’t an option

Fast forward two months.

Wobbling my way into the hospital room, I was excited to finally meet my beautiful baby girl, Sydnee! I hopped up onto the bed (okay, maybe I didn’t hop), the on-call doctor placed the heart monitor on my belly, and with zero compassion, she told me my baby didn’t have a heartbeat. My world stopped. Everything I was so angry about that night faded away. Nothing else mattered.

So there I sat, healing from one of the most devastating experiences of my life and I couldn’t find anybody to blame. I was in uncharted territory. I couldn’t blame myself, I was a first time mom who had no idea what to expect before giving birth. I couldn’t blame Eric, what could he have possibly done to cause the umbilical cord to accidentally restrict Sydnee’s breathing. I couldn’t blame my doctor, I was in his office weekly and everything checked out when I was there. I couldn’t even blame God because, at that point in my life, I didn’t believe in God. For the first time in my life I was forced to consider that placing the blaming on others was just a series of stories I told myself to justify my bad behavior.

With nobody to blame, I had no other option but to look in the mirror. For instance, when I thought about how Eric didn’t make me happy, it finally dawned on me that maybe my mother was right when she told me that nobody had the power to make me happy or unhappy; that was my job. When I blamed him for not making enough money, and I looked in the mirror, I realized that we didn’t have enough money because I wasn’t working and I was over spending. When I blamed him for working too much, I realized he was doing so because I put so much pressure on him to make money. When I blamed him for not telling me he loves me enough, it became clear that it was me who wasn’t loving me enough; I was not taking very good care of myself.

As I started to turn all of these thoughts around, I began to see how everything I put on Eric was just him lovingly holding up a mirror for my benefit so I could see all of the things that were getting in the way of living my life to the fullest. Instead of berating Eric, I should have been thanking him, because the truth is, Eric was a loving, caring man, who only wanted to make me happy. And yet, I made it impossible for him to do the very thing I demanded from him. I didn’t love myself, and as a result, it was impossible for me to recognize love coming from him.

Once I made it my job to love myself, I no longer felt the need to blame Eric. Taking responsibility for my own shtick, rather than blaming, is the very thing that brings me peace. I know that every single thing that comes into my life is for my benefit to help me grow, not something that happens to me. It is within each of these experiences, that the universe is actually conspiring to help me grow to my fullest potential, whether I like it or not.

Tragedy isn’t the only road to peace, however, one does need to be willing to look in the mirror to get to the truth in order to find peace. Ironically, for me it wasn’t until after I lost my daughter, a heartbreaking experience, that I could see that I was responsible for everything in my life. Losing Sydnee brought me to my knees, and then to peace – one of the many gifts she left behind.

These days when I find myself starting to blame somebody else, I take a few deep breaths, look in the mirror and think to myself “Why is this situation/person in my life?” “What are they here to teach me?” Once I turn it around in my mind, I no longer feel the need to blame, and I place my attention on learning and growing. I can’t say it’s always easy, but with each experience the next one becomes easier.

k soulspring pic

Zoe – Serendipity!

The greatest gifts in my life have come in the form of breast cancer, foreclosure, my drug and sex addicted father, who passed away when I was ten years old, my ex-husband, my children, Jake and Jonah, and their sister, Sydnee, who died two days shy of her due date.

One might smallest just breathe logoask how losing a father at a young age, getting divorced, losing a child or having cancer could possibly be considered gifts. There is no doubt that these were very challenging times in my life, but once the dust settled, and maybe even during some of the later experiences, I was able to see the gift in each and every experience in my life.

Within each of our not-so-normal lives, we are faced with challenges along the way, nobody is exempt. These challenges show up for us to help us grow. Each and every one of those experiences leaves us with a “gift”. The catch is, we don’t actually get the gift until we are aware it’s there for us. Imagine a beautifully wrapped present hiding way up high in the closet, but you don’t know it exists. It only becomes exciting when you know it’s there and you have the chance to tear it open. The good news is it’s never too late to find them, we just need to open our minds to another way of seeing things.

My hope is that through this series of dysfunctional, crazy, funny, challenging and sometimes embarrassing glances into my life, you will learn to spot the silver linings in your life, unveiling these precious gems that have the power to bring you freedom and peace of mind.

I’m going to tell you some very personal details about my life and you will likely have thoughts of judgment, maybe anger at some point, but don’t stress out, just breathe. I forgive you. Xo


Zoe was a six-month old golden retriever that came into my life when I was pregnant with my daughter, Sydnee.  She was sweet, beautiful, loving, quiet, and most importantly, fully trained.  I wasn’t looking for a dog because I was having a baby, and I didn’t want the responsibility of a dog and a baby at the same time.  My sister-in-law couldn’t keep her though, and something in me told me to take her anyways-she was so cute!

I am incredibly grateful that Zoe came into my life because shortly thereafter Sydnee passed away, and Zoe was my constant companion.  She stuck by my side day in and day out.  Her unwavering, ooshy gooshy love helped me get through one of the most difficult times of my life. She sat by me while I cried and journaled, walked with me everyday and kept me company all day and night. I don’t know how I would have gotten through the loss of my daughter without her.

Zoe coming into my life was no accident; she was right there on the road map just exactly where she was supposed to be, and she stayed there until the summer I had to move out of my house and into a condo that didn’t allow pets.  She passed away just two weeks before I moved.  She was a very intuitive dog and one of my greatest teacher.

Zoe taught me how to be unconditionally loving before I became a parent and had to learn “on the job”.  She taught me to listen without the need to make the conversation all about me.  She taught me to be loyal and to stick by people even when they aren’t at their best.  And most of all, Zoe reminded me that the universe brings us everything we need and right on time.

Isn’t she the sweetest!!!  Miss you!  xoxo  zoe

It’s Cinderella Fault… #15

It’s Cinderella’s fault that the divorce rate is so high!  Don’t believe me?

Most women grow up with Disney’s version of a storybook romance, fueling their desire to fall in love, get married, have children and live happily ever after. As time goes on, movies like Sleepless in Seattle, Pretty Woman, The Notebook and The Holiday keep our fantasies alive. We almost have no chance; we are pumped with romance, not only in movies, but in novels, magazines and of course societal pressure to get married before we become “old maids”.

What’s a girl to do?

We finally meet a guy, “the One”, who is worthy of our love.  We get decide to get hitched, and get lost in the excitement of “the wedding”. We have been waiting for this day all our lives – planning, dreaming, picking out colors.  Unfortunately, nobody tells us just how much work and dedication it takes to make a marriage thrive, especially once children come on the scene.  It’s not their fault though, we wouldn’t believe them anyways because we’ve been brainwashed by Ms. Cinderella.cinderella

I was no different. I bought into the whole handsome prince taking me away on his white horse nonsense, and I loved it!  It was exciting to think about how one day I would be rescued from my simple existence and whisked away to some amazing new life. And one day, I met my prince and he was a great guy! I had a ball planning my wedding. I got so busy planning my wedding that I forgot to pay attention to my relationship.

Several years and a few kids into my marriage, I decided I wasn’t happy because my ex wasn’t the prince I imagined him to be.  In other words, he didn’t sweep me off my feet every single day, tell me how beautiful I was and how much he loved me every day, regularly buy me big expensive gifts, whisk me around the world, showing me all that life had to offer, read my mind, and oh yea, he didn’t help me enough with the extensive list of chores required to run a household and raise children. Most of all, he didn’t “make me happy” like the prince was supposed to do.  Didn’t he see the movies?!  Didn’t he get the script?!

Looking back, he was a great prince.  He was kind and loyal, worked hard to put food on the table, showed up for his family, even when he didn’t want to, bought me nice things, took me on nice vacations and bought me a beautiful home.  But, I was so buried in my happily ever after fairy tale that I couldn’t see my own reality.

I saw those princesses dancing and singing about how much they loved their man, and I wasn’t singing or dancing!  In fact, I was kind of depressed, and incredibly bitchy. I was a lot more like the wicked step mother than Cinderella.  Did I get the wrong script?!  I built up years of resentment and that made matters even worse. This prince could not win!

The husbands who play a role in these fairy tales are often shocked and surprised when his princess announces she is leaving. He has no idea he is playing the role of the prince, let alone what the job requirements were.  He goes to work each day and works hard to provide for his family like young men are taught to do. He is told by the other men that if he works hard to get ahead and provides for his family everything will work out great for him.  He is under the impression that everything is just as it should be; the house is clean, check, dinner’s on the table, check.  He has a job, a house, a wife, a dog and 2.3 kids, check, check, check.

What I didn’t realize until after I got divorced was that I was the one who was supposed to “make me happy.” Go figure!  All those years I blamed my ex for not making me happy, and it wasn’t even his job!! This is a common misconception in relationships on both sides, actually. We so often look outside ourselves for happiness and in reality the only person who can make us truly happy is ourselves.

Once I was on my own, I was still miserable, and realized I was the common denominator!  I could no longer blame my ex because he no longer lived with me. I was forced to look inside and see what was causing me so much grief, and realized that my perspective was way off!  I did a lot of studying, found some amazing teachers and learned to love myself again.  Of course the yoga and meditation helped me to move through it all more gracefully, and I managed to survive all of my crazy!  You can too! I promise. xo