Friday, August 30, 2019

Bright Sides

Light-headed, the inability to eat, and overthinking everything are only some of the debilitating signs of anxiety for me. Green Day have a song, "Wake Me Up When September Ends". I wasn't a big follower of that band, and doubt they were writing about school starting and the end of summer, but when I hear the chorus, that is what I think of. Anyone who knows me well knows I have anxiety. They also know that it rears its head most ferociously at the start of the school year. As a parent, I do everything I can to hide my anxiety from my children, for my children. When all of us are anxious together though, its palpable.

A new approach to anxiety is for people to look at the upside of it. It can protect you, it means you feel deeply, it provides you the built-in ability to be prepared, and it also means you are capable of being a very empathetic person. Most of the time, I can help myself and my kids with mindfulness tools I've learned. We practice walking through a situation mentally, before physically in preparation for an upcoming nerve wracking day. I usually find that the anticipation is far worse than the actual situation itself.

This week that wasn't the case. My children went back to school and it was a big change this year. They weren't together in the same school anymore, and my daughter started middle school. Each child had their own swarm of butterflies taking flight inside them. My daughter asked me if she was sick. She said she felt warm and couldn't eat. I explained that what she was feeling was nerves and we head off to school. My son who was so excited all morning on the way to second grade, got much quieter on the walk to school. We found some friends to walk to the middle school with and then catching me off guard, the goodbye was briefer than it had ever been in elementary. There was no walking in, and too many other kids around for a big hug and kiss. Just like that, she was off, and as soon as I saw another mother crying, my eyes spilled tears like hers.

I pulled myself back together and headed hand-in-hand with my son next door to the elementary school. I didn't let him see me cry, and I was going to handle his familiar school goodbye like a pro. We waited for the bell to ring and said hello to friends, we walked down past his first grade class and onto the second grade rooms. He found a hook for his backpack, and looked up at his new teacher. She said hello and he turned into me and began to cry. He has many friends in his class and this school isn't new to him, but the teacher, the classroom and the absence of his sister on campus are. I held him and once again cried. I kept my sunglasses on and tried to keep it together but I couldn't. He grabbed my hand and said, "Mommy, please don't leave me." More than anything in that moment, I wished I could honor his wishes, but I couldn't. This felt harder than I anticipated. He eventually went in, and likely recovered quickly, but I didn't.

Another benefit of anxiety is that it can change your perspective. It provided you with the ability to focus on what is important in your life. I felt that so clearly that first morning of school. I love my children and I love summer with them. Sending them back to school is a loss of all that time together and a loss of a sense of freedom with them. I struggle with how quickly time is passing and that middle school feels like a huge leap into independence. The change from elementary to middle is massive and for all of us it will be uncomfortable for some time.

I'm trying to feel those bright sides of anxiety and also the bright sides of this big change for all of us. I do feel that the flip side of anxiety can be excitement and that glimmers to the surface for us now and again this week. The nerves are winning out over excitement so far, but I believe that will change very soon. I am looking forward to that change. After all, breakfast was our favorite meal, so it will be nice when we can all start eating it again.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Loving It!

In second grade, I found my best friend. She had a Superman lunch box, a center part with a low ponytail, and the most unique sneeze I had ever heard. From the minute I saw her, I was intrigued. She was the first real nonconformist I had ever met. We began getting together to play after school, then our mom's became friends too. It didn't take long for us to become inseparable. For the rest of elementary school, we were side by side.

We drifted apart a bit through junior high and high school, but began college together until we both  transferred to different schools. We never fell out of touch and began growing closer and closer from college on. We both lived in Manhattan together after school, and began adulthood on either side of Central Park. She was on the East side and I was on the West, and it was just a short bus ride to each other's apartment.

She went on to get her Masters, and I moved to California. Out lives took separate turns once again, but we remained close. I pursued entertainment, and she entered the world of business and journalism. We both had daughters around the same time -- while I put my career on hold, she learned to juggle both identities. She has managed quite well, and I view her as once of the most successful women I know.

After visiting NY a few weeks ago, I came home with a bit of an identity crisis. I felt like it was time to go back into some sort of career. I had so many ideas, but I felt like I was standing at the bottom of the mountain, uncertain of which path to head up. I called my friend in NY and told her what I was feeling. Through laughter, frustration and near tears, she guided me to some clarity. She slowed me down and asked me first and foremost, what do I love. She reminded me that there is so much pressure on women today to be successful at everything we do. Despite the juggling and balancing acts we think we see some women manage, we don't see what they have to sacrifice. We also aren't always privy to the fact that having that much going on can make one feel like they are in the circus.

She helped me catch my breath, and to take one small step at a time. Once she said that I realized how many ideas I had at once, and that they were causing my head to spin. She helped me make a plan for that night, the next morning, and the rest of the week. She reminded me that although life seems to be going super fast these days, our careers still have a lot of life left in them. After more than an hour on the phone, I felt so grateful. I know what I love to do, and am going to stay clear to follow paths that remain true to that passion.

As both of our youngest children second grade this year, I can't help but feel giddy at the idea that they could be in class with a friend that they will still call a friend in their forties. I'm excited to see what happens in the next few years, for the kids, and for us.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Making Choices

Decisions are hard. I don't know much about astrology, but I do know that I am a Libra and I live up to that supposedly indecisive trait. I am constantly weighing things out in my mind. At a restaurant, I'm usually the last one at the table to order food. If a waiter looks at me first, I'll ask that they go around the table the other way. Dessert is another story. Chocolate is the only answer. No questions there. All other aspects of life though require major thinking for me. Procrastinating is something I think I am quite good at. I realize that while I love my life, I have made some choices that have kept me from moving forward in some areas.

Three years ago, having already started a few programs at my children's school, and having taken on being room parent for every grade level my kids were in, I also then took on VP of the PTA. After a year of that, I stepped up to President, and then my co-President and I decided to do one victory lap together and here we are, three years later. I like what I've been doing, and love working with the team of people I get to work with, but it is very much time to move on. That position has taken so much of my time, and it has been at the cost of me making some big life decisions. I have put creative projects on hold, career changes on hold, and even just time for myself on hold.

There have been so many pieces I started writing, or project ideas that I began but never followed through on. There are so many things I would love to do, that I can't even decide where to start. I do know though, that I have to clean my slate a bit and with summer coming, I can do just that. I have amazing follow-through for others and their needs, but it is time for me to pick a goal for myself and see it all the way through. I've wanted to take tennis lessons for a few years now, or even try a new Pilates class. But I've been so busy with school stuff, that the dentist for my kids has been on the back burner for too long, booking flights and travel plans have been on hold, and a night out with my husband has happened, but way too infrequently lately.

For the past few years, I've said to myself that next week will be a bit easier. When this event is over, I will come up for air, or I will take some time for myself when... So without further ado, I am making a list of things I have put off. I will take a tennis lesson, I will take a nap. I will go out for dinner. I will write more. I will take my kids to the dentist, even though that is fun for no one. I will sit still more. First though, I just need to make it through the next few weeks.

Sunday, August 11, 2019


It is summer, and I have a rare few hours to myself. My kids are making up for lost time with friends they only see twice a year. After weeks of spending every minute with at least one of them, I am not quite used to this much quiet. We are in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, where we come every summer. We come for about two weeks in the summer, and if we are lucky a visit in the winter too. It is never enough time for me, and I always wish we could spend the whole summer here. We swim at the lake, we hike, we go to the river, we boat, we listen to outdoor concerts, we see fireflies, we go to town for ice cream, we see friends, and we get lots of mosquito bites. That last one is pretty much the only negative thing I can think of about being here. We spend a concentrated amount of time with my parents, which we don't get throughout the year and other than the noise my kids make and the noise my parents TV makes blaring the news each day, we get along in one house okay.

Each summer we come, my husband can only come for part of it, due to work commitments. We always beg him to come on the back end because it is so much harder to say goodbye to him here, then it would be to come on our own and welcome him here. Last year he couldn't make it at all because his mom was so sick. She passed away two days before we left here, and despite his sadness he asked us to finish out our trip and come home two days later. It was a painful few days waiting to hold him. He had asked me to keep the news from the children until we were all together, and it was so hard to feel his pain and pretend everything was okay for the kids. When we reunited back in LA, my husband picked us up and took us to the beach to tell the kids the news. The ride next to him from the airport all the way to the sand was so painful. I was holding in my tears and so badly wanted let him fall apart in my arms. When we finally sat down to talk to the kids, my husband couldn't get the words out without crying. He asked me to help and together we explained to the kids that their Mimi had died. Both children reacted differently, we tried as best as we could to process this together, and then a dog came running by our blanket and we couldn't help but focus on that. The dog brought a few more dog friends and it was almost comical how interrupted we were by all the dogs running around us, but it was also exactly what we needed in that moment.

Today is the one year anniversary of my mother-in-law's death. Again, I am not with my husband and wish I could hold him again. He wants to be alone today and is taking time to himself to reflect in the desert. It has been a painful year of mourning for him and his sisters. A year of firsts without the matriarch of the family. She was not only an attentive mother, caretaker, and adviser to her four children but I can safely say that she was each one of their best friends. She was always there for them and honestly available to anyone who needed her. For years she worked in a women's shelter volunteering to help women in need. When her extended family needed help she housed their children. She privately paid for medical support for her children, their spouses and for grandchildren when it was out of reach for them. She has left behind quite a legacy and although I am not with my husband today, he asked that I remind the kids today just how special their grandmother was. 

What my husband doesn't realize is how much he is like his mother (or maybe he does, but he is humble like her too). Both last year and this, he asked us to keep vacationing and having fun together and put his needs last. Last year his mom didn't even want her funeral to happen until all of her friends and family had completed their vacation plans for the summer. When my sister-in-law suggested she cancel her trip to Hawaii, her mom insisted that life comes first. Today I will honor you Barbara Andreone, by teaching my children all you were and all you still are to all of us. You are the kind of mother I am hoping I am an ounce of to my children. I would consider myself lucky if they continue a friendship with me that goes beyond just mother and child. I will teach them to look out for others the way you spent your life doing, and you have my word that I will love your only boy for all time. You made a great one and I am so grateful to be part of your family. I love you, and per your advice, we are going to go off today and enjoy this beautiful place and live life up to its fullest.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Play Time

It's mid-summer and each day, I try to find fun and adventure for my kids. I try to do this throughout the year as well, but summer's long days and warm weather allow us so much more freedom. In getting caught up in planning activities for them, I sometimes forget that playing isn't only for kids. That's not to say that I haven't enjoyed all the fun I've had so far this vacation, but I want to remember the specific things I love and make sure they don't get lost on the bottom of the summer list. So, without further ado, I will make sure the rest of this summer has some playtime in it for me too. After all, its halfway over. 

I love the crisp cold chill that you get when you dive under the surface of the water for the first dunk of the day. I vow to swim anytime we pass a lake, ocean, or pool that allows swimming (barring we are not in a moving car speeding on a highway, I want to stop and swim). I love seeing friends and spending hours together talking, laughing and sharing meals. We all have to eat everyday, so if we can do it together with friends, it's even better. Hoping for more family meals with friends where we cook together, play and eat. Enjoying the weather and being outside makes me happy. Whenever possible, I want to read outside. I want to take long walks. I want to lose track of time.

Thinking back to my own childhood and what things I loved to do as a child, I don't think that my ideas of fun have changed all that much. I used to play outside with friends and reenact our favorite shows. I still love the theatre today. Games were a favorite of mine, and I think I want to play them more than my kids sometimes. I still love watching movies. My movie choices have expanded, but with kids in tow all summer, I feel limited to G and PG rated films. Hopefully, I will get to a grown up movie in the theatre at least once this summer. In the meantime, my couch will have to do. Friends were important to me then and now. I wish I could see more of the close ones from growing up. Often, the nature of the pace of summer allows me time with friends I don't get to see much throughout the rest of the year. I treasure time catching up with old friends and making new traditions.

So, while it is still summer and with just a few more weeks before school starts, I hope to keep the fun flowing as long as possible!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Self Care

Last week, I had lunch with a friend whose husband is ill. She is now his full time care taker. I listened to how her days are filled with caring for someone else around the clock. I asked her if she has any time for herself, and she said that everyone keeps asking her what she is doing for her. I responded by saying that we are sitting having lunch together, and that is something. I read an article about how self care sometimes can actually be the thing that gives us even more stress, because there is this pressure to cut out time for ourselves, and sometimes the circumstances of the timing in our lives doesn't allow much time for crocheting, sushi making, or silent retreats, just to name a few.

I have many things I would like to try. I have many classes I would like to take. I have many movies I would like to see, but while my free time is filled up, I want to concentrate on how to spend what time I do have wisely. I have been reading up a lot lately on relationship drama on elementary and middle school between girls, and our school even held a workshop for parents on the subject. After learning tools to support my daughter with difficulty in her friendships, I began to look at some of mine. I thought about the language I learned to give my daughter to use, and realized that I don't have these tools in my arsenal for myself. I have relationships with some people, that drain me, and I don't deal with them well, or sometimes, I don't deal with them at all.

I went away for the night with two long time friends this week. We were away together for less than 24 hours, but it was so refreshing. The three of us have known each other for so long. We have all gone through so much, and have a level of comfort with each other that only comes with time. We talked about how our circles of people in our day to day lives has changed, making it harder to see one another as much. We made up for lost time, and covered a lot of ground in this visit though. I value the friendship with these two women so much, that it was hard not to see that a good friend should really make you feel a certain way when you are with them. I came home evaluating other relationships, and that in conjunction with the tools for how to deal with friendship hiccups, made me feel well aware of the contrast between friends that fill me up, and friends that deplete me.

No one friend is going to be everything to me. I have friends that make me laugh. I have friends that I always learn something new from. I have friends whose drive inspires me. I have friends who know how to party. I have friends who are incredible artists. I have friends who only fall into one of these categories, and some who fit into all. When other elements to friends show up, that don't make it a comfort to be around, I need to take pause. Just like I am learning tools to fill up my daughter's arsenal, I need to fill up mine a bit too.