Why I Let My Daughter Have An Instagram Account

I’m pretty conservative when it comes to my kids. I’m the mom who says no. No to the hot new movie that all the kids are going to see. No to the obnoxious, snarky shows on the Disney channel, no to the more risqué shows geared toward older kids. No to walking up to the school alone. No to riding bikes outside of our neighborhood. No to ride-on motorized toys. No, even, to reading Young Adult books I, myself, authored. No. Not yet.

Given this, imagine my surprise—and my daughter’s—when I said yes to opening an Instagram account.

I still remember how startled I was when I discovered, about eighteen months ago, that many of my daughter’s (4th grade) friends had accounts. When I thought of Instagram, images of selfies instantly came to mind, of bikini clad girls and video clips of kids partying, hundreds, sometimes thousands of followers. No way, I thought. No way am I letting my daughter jump into this cesspool of social media. She’s too young. Too innocent. This isn’t something she needs to be doing.

And my daughter, bless her heart, didn’t even ask. She knew. She knew what the answer would be. No, no, no.

So, one short year later, why did I do it? Why’d I do a complete 180 and let my daughter dive into the world of social media? Basically, it boils down to this:

  1. She’s a good kid. She does what we ask of her. She applies herself at school. She does her homework. She works hard at soccer and softball and choir. She helps out around the house. (She reads her brother bedtime stories!) She’s demonstrated a level of maturity, responsibility, and trust that made us feel not only comfortable that she could manage her own behavior on Instagram, but that she deserved the opportunity to try.
  2. It’s the world she’s going to live in. As much as we may wring our hands about the evils of social media, it’s not going anywhere. It’s the world we live in, the world our kids are growing up in. We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend like it’s not happening, but that only serves to 1) isolate us and 2) leave us woefully ill-equipped for dealing with reality. And I don’t want my daughter ill-equipped. I want her prepared. I want her ready. I want her to know what she’s doing. I want her to understand how to communicate, about actions and consequences, intended or otherwise. And the only way she’s going to learn this is if we allow her to explore the world in which she’s living.
  3. She’s young enough and still likes me enough that we can do this together. Two of the conditions of my daughter’s Instagram account are that it’s open on my phone at all times and that I know the password. This means I’m able to see what’s going on—what she posts and what her friends post. I see the pictures, the comments. I see who sends her Follow Requests (she’s not allowed to accept without running it by me first). We discuss who she might want to Follow. We’ve talked about why it doesn’t make sense to have hundreds of Followers, just for the sake of having Followers. We’ve talked about what kinds of pictures to post, versus those that could hurt someone’s feelings or lead to some other consequence.
  4. It’s an opportunity for her to begin expressing her own individuality. And as much as I may wish my little girl could be my little girl forever, the fact is she’s growing up, and growing into her own person. And it’s really kind of fascinating and cool (and heartwarmingly wonderful) to see her creativity emerge, to see which pictures she chooses to post (lots of our dogs and cats, and, just this week, a pic of her reading 43 on 41 after she had the opportunity to meet former president Bush!). It’s also fun to see some of the pages she’s chosen to follow: CatsofInstagram, GreatPyreneesoftheHour, and Imagine Dragons.
  5. And finally, while we’re sure there’s some forbidden fruit in our future, we don’t want it to be Social Media. We don’t want to turn this into some huge, unattainable holy grail. We don’t want her venturing out there on her own. We don’t want her trying to figure everything out by herself. Far better to stand by her side and teach her, than to shut her down because we’re not ready.

So… how’s it gone?

I’m happy to say it’s gone great. Her introduction to Instagram has been a positive experience for her, and for us as mother/daughter. It’s provided opportunities to talk about real-life situations and scenarios, such as inappropriate behavior or pictures, bullying, foul language, premature sexuality, etc. And as much as I dislike some of the content I’ve seen, I’d rather see and know about it, than to not know what was going on. Because of this, we’re able to talk about things we need to talk about. And they’re not just esoteric conversations anymore. They’re concrete, based upon concrete incidents involving people she knows. She comes to me when she gets new Follow requests, and explains why she thinks she should accept—or not accept. She tells me who she wants to send Follow requests to. She’s shown me several pictures/comments on pictures that bothered her, and she’s complained about a few of her friends who are a little selfie happy. One of them she wanted to unfollow, but before she did so, we talked about possible ramifications.

I still say no. A lot. She still can’t watch Hunger Games or Twilight. She still doesn’t have her own phone number. She still can’t read my Midnight Dragonfly books. She still can’t walk to school by herself. And she still can’t sign up for some of the more dangerous apps, such as Kik and Whisper and SnapChat. But because she’s happy with Instagram, she’s not in any hurry to branch out to other venues.

Now, six months into this new world, this No Mom is glad she said Yes.

It’s A Scary World

So I live in North Texas…you know, near Dallas and Patient Zero. That hospital you’ve been hearing about? Yeah. Both my kids were born there. I personally have spent over a month there as a patient. My ob-gyn is there. My fertility specialist. I get my mammograms there. I’ve walked the halls, eaten meals, made friends. Needless to say, this is all hitting way close to home.

Last week I’m walking my daughter, a 5th grader, home from school, and she and one of her besties are excitedly telling me they talked about it at recess and figured it out: if the Ebola starts spreading, we all need to get to some remote island. We’ll be safe there…well, as long as we can figure out how to purify water and get food. Bodily fluids with Ebola can’t survive across water…can they? The salt water would kill them…right?

I smile. I engage with the girls. I discuss the merits of their plan, while at the same time working to assure them that we don’t need to worry about that (even as, in the back of my mind, the little fear bug gnaws away.) And then I find myself opening the front door and walking into the cool confines of our house, much like the afternoon last year when I learned about the active-shooter drill at the elementary school, so, so SAD that these little kids, these CHILDREN, have to worry about stuff like gunmen in their schools and Ebola.

Flash-forward to today, and I’m messaging with a writer friend and reflecting about all the Huge Stuff kids today have to deal with—Ebola! ISIS! Beheadings on YouTube! Mass Shootings at school and movie theaters and just about everywhere else! Cyber Bullying! Sexual Predators! Online Sexual Predators, and More, More, Always More!—and she wisely says, “They will learn to deal with it. It’s our job to raise responsible adults not dependent children, as hard as it is on us parents (and grandparents.) Our job is not to keep them away from scary things, but to teach them to deal with and overcome fears.”

And I just kinda sat there going…wow. You’re right. You are absolutely right. That is our job as parents. To teach our kids. To prepare our kids. To ready them for the day that they walk through the world as adults. Sometimes this involves protecting them. Sometimes this involves taking a deep breath while bumps and bruises happen, understanding that they are an inevitable part of growing up.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought about swimming—and drowning. When we have kids, we naturally worry about them falling into water. Given this, one of two courses are available to us: we can keep them away from water, which is really, really great, because if you’re not around water, you can’t drown…until the day something unexpected happens and are you are around water and you aren’t prepared. Or…we can teach them to swim.

So I started thinking…and talking to some friends. How do we do it? How do we teach our kids to function in this scary world? How do we prepare them for the world they are going to live in?

How do we teach them to swim?

And while it may seem like a big, overwhelming responsibility, I realized there really are some salient approaches that make a big difference.

  • Be honest. Tell them the truth. Answer their questions. Don’t create fairy tales that some day will crash around them. If they ask what Ebola is, tell them. Is they ask about ISIS, tell them. BUT…and this is huge…operate on a need to know basis. For my 6yo, telling him that Ebola is a bad sickness and ISIS is a group of bad guys in another part of the world is enough. That satisfies his 6yo curiosity. He doesn’t need to know more than that. My 10yo, however…she needs deeper answers. And I can pace myself by feeding bits of information, and letting her questions guide me. She’s functioning in this world. She’s around televisions and newspapers, radios, and the biggest information source of all: the Internet. So she has access to information as it is. I need to make sure she feels comfortable that when she asks me questions, I’m real with her, because if I’m not, she’ll quit asking. Which brings me to,
  • The media. All of it. TV, radio, print, Internet… Dial it back. Minimize their exposure. Maybe we want to hear what’s being said, but that doesn’t mean we need to expose young impressionable minds to all the spin. And hysteria. And hype. Sadly, the 24-hour (entertainment) news cycle is about ratings (i.e., making money) and not much else. If kids aren’t hearing this stuff, then a whole lot of their fears can be mitigated before they ever even begin.
  • Just like with water and swimming, teaching plays a huge role in preparing kids to live in the world that is awaiting them. Teach them about responsible Internet behavior. Teach them about the dangers of posting racy selfies. Teach them about sociopaths who pose as children on social networks. Teach them about the dangers of giving out personal information. Teach them about Ebola and how it’s spread, what bodily fluids are, and what kinds of safety protocols we can all take. Sure, what you teach a 5yo will be very different than a 10 or 15yo, but we can’t pretend bad things don’t happen, because that’s like letting your child who doesn’t know how to swim go play at the lake without a life-jacket, and simply telling him to stay on shore.
  • Acknowledge fear, but teach them skills to deal with their fears–fear is an important feeling that tells us to beware, be vigilant, but not be paralyzed. If kids are taught never to fear anything, they are too naive to function in the real world. And finally…
  • Create a consistent, peaceful, loving environment for your kids at home. Give them a safety net, a place where they know they are safe and loved, where they can exhale and trust and retreat, despite whatever ugliness they may encounter in the outside world. Listen to them. Hug them. LOVE them.

Interestingly, when I asked family and friends what their ONE piece of advice would be for parents raising kids in a scary world…a consistent, loving, peaceful environment at home was the number one response given, and the response given by every single young adult and teen. I found that pretty fascinating, and pretty telling. Love. It’s so darn important, the very foundation of our children’s lives. Maybe we can’t eradicate Ebola or stop ISIS, but we can teach, and prepare, and wrap our kids in love…and maybe just maybe, the scary world won’t feel quite so scary.

 

The Decision that Ruined My Son’s Life

….or so he says.

It all started innocently enough, a new video game my 10 year old daughter heard about from friends and asked if she could play, too. We checked it out and didn’t find anything alarming, so we said sure and off she went. She’s never been a gamer, so we were fairly amused and intrigued to see her hunkered down with her device, building all sorts of intriguing virtual creations, via the world of Minecraft. All so very innocent and innocuous…until her little brother caught the fever. He’d never done anything online before, was pretty much consumed by his Lego’s, so we saw no red flags warning us….Stop! Don’t Do It!

If only we’d known then what we know now.

Maybe summer hit at the wrong time in our son’s Minecraft love affair. Maybe he had too much time on his hands. Maybe it was just too hot outside to do much running around outdoors. Or…maybe…he’s just a whole lot like both of his parents: Type A, OCD, all-in…whatever you want to call it. He started out playing on his iPad, but quickly evolved to the X-box–and before we knew it, our 6 year old was utterly consumed by the world of Minecraft. It was all he wanted to do, all day long. It was all he talked about–even in his sleep. Even, on occasion, racing into our room in the middle of the night to tell us some cool nuance he’d just discovered or wanted to try out. Oiy.

Now, that’s not to say there was no good, because there was. Lots of it. His imagination took flight, and we soon discovered we may have a budding architect on our hands. Or a natural-born storyteller (ahem). Maybe both…but definitely a gamer. By the end of summer, our earlier fascination had turned to frustration…and some other less than attractive emotions. Because for our son, playing Minecraft was not passive. It obsessed him. Consumed. He would talk to his world as he played. And fuss. Complain. Yell. A perfectly happy kid could sit down to play, transforming in a very short time to a grumpy grouch. And his now soured mood would transfer to every other aspect of his life. Heaven forbid we told him it was time to put the device down and come eat dinner…run an errand…take a bath. And don’t even get me started about group play. I quickly learned there are reasons that, technically, Minecraft is for older kids. Yes, from a technical standpoint, younger kids can easily navigate the world of Minecraft (and do really cool stuff). But from an emotional maturity standpoint, they’re just not ready for someone else (a sister, a cousin, a friend) to enter their world…and make mischief (which is, in all fairness, an intriguing part of the game.) If he spent hours (and I do mean hours) building some master creation, only to have his sister slip in and catch his world on fire….OMG. The rest of the day wasn’t only ruined, but drama and fighting would ERUPT, and our blood pressure soared.

Which brings me to the end of summer–and our decision. By the time July rolled into August, my husband and I had not only had enough, but we realized we had a problem, and it was up to us to solve it. We did some research on the game, as well as on kids and screen time, and, after talking with a friend who goes “device free” during the school week, we decided that’s what we needed to do, as well.  Our 6 year old was starting kindergarten, and we couldn’t have him obsessing about a video game day in and day our, not when our schedules were getting busier, and sports were starting up. So. We announced that Monday-Friday were going to  become “no screen time” days.

Needless to say, he freaked. Shock quickly gave way to anger, to yelling and screaming and gnashing of teeth, to absolute mania. We couldn’t do that! We didn’t understand! We were being mean! And yes…we were ruining his life. His LIFE, I tell you. RUINING it.

But we held firm. This was one of those occasions where we knew what needed to happen, and we weren’t about to let any amount of ranting change our mind. It was time to be the parent, not the friend. And so school began, and the devices got put away.

For the first week, he begged every single day. He pleaded. He tried negotiating. Deal-making. And…yes…threats. But we held firm (and let him know in no uncertain terms that threats were NOT going to be tolerated around here.) Then week two rolled around and…nothing. No pleading. No whining. No negotiating. It was like he finally realized we were dead serious, and there was no getting around our decision. And then, glory be, other changes began occuring. The Lego’s came back out. He began drawing pictures again. Making forts. Doing all those things that I once thought drove me crazy (and, yeah, probably still do, but at least they engage him physically and mentally and he’s not glued to a device.)

Now, a month into the school  year, and it’s rather stunning how dramatically the “device-free weekdays” has changed our family. Our son is more relaxed. He’s not amped up and talking Minecraft 24/7. And he’s REALLY gotten into his taekwando classes. He’s about to test for his first “color” belt–a yellow–and he’s (on his own) practicing like crazy.

Does he still long to play Minecraft? Yes. Does he count down the days of the week until Friday afternoon, when he can dive back into his virtual world? Yes. Does he squeeze in Minecraft as much as he can on the weekends, between soccer and softball and t-ball games? Well, yeah. But come Sunday evening, the devices go away, and peace returns.

Did our decision ruin his life? He might still tell you yes, but as for the rest of us-my husband and 10 year old daughter and myself-we’d tell you our decision was one of the smartest we’ve ever made.

 

 

 

Wingmen

Shortly after the tragic news about Robin Williams broke, when messages of shock flooded Facedbook, a friend of mine posted this:

Where was your wingman, Robin Williams? For all the joy you brought to people, all the fans mourning your loss and others condemning, who among us was there for you? We never really know what’s going on in the mind of someone else.

Over the next few hours, her words became a constant echo through my mind, poking and prodding, nudging, shifting into new questions: Who’s my wingman? Who can I call? Who can I lean on? Who’s there for me? But then…Whose wingman am I? Do they know? Do they know they can call me anytime…about anything? Do they know I am there for them? Do I demonstrate the things that I think in my heart? Do I reach out? Do I touch base and check on them? Do I let them know when I think about them?

For the past several weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship. It started earlier this summer with my dreaded annual mammogram. I believe in them, but wow, do they stress me out. Because of that, I’d put this one off a bit. But I knew it was time to go, so I mustered my courage and went. Then I waited. A day went by with no phone call. Yay! Day two. The morning went by. Yay! Maybe I’m in the clear….but then…the phone rings. It’s the hospital…the nurse…they’ve found something…an abnormality…I need to come back…my head is spinning…I’m feeling dizzy…

Okay, maybe you know that drill. I do. It’s happened before. But I stood there, all barely able to breathe and freaked out and…alone. And I wanted to call someone. I needed to call someone. I needed someone to take my hand and tell me it would be okay. I needed a wingman.

But I had no idea who to call.

At first I thought about my husband…but he was working and I didn’t want to worry him while he needed to be focused on his job. Then I thought about my sister…but she’s got massive big stuff on her plate, and I didn’t want to stress her out. Then I thought about my sweet neighbor…but I didn’t want to lay that on her. Then…

I just stood there, because I honest to God had no idea who to call. Because somehow I’ve reached this point where I have lots of people with whom I’m friends, but I’m not sure I have…a wingman.

There, I said it.

It’s odd that I can be surrounded by so much, a loving husband and wonderful kids, by great neighbors and friends, but still sometimes feel alone. And I know that part of that is my fault, because sometimes I don’t know how to reach out, to say, hey, I’m scared. I’ve got a problem. I need help. I need someone right now. I need a friend. I need YOU.

It takes a lot of courage to make yourself vulnerable like that. It’s like standing before someone naked.

But just like you have to get naked with your spouse (or significant other or whoever you’re crawling in bed with), I’m realizing you have to get naked with your friends too (figuratively speaking, of course.) (unless you’re like trying on swimsuits or something.) (but maybe that’s a topic for another day).

Sometimes I wonder when things got so complicated. Maybe they always were, but it seems like marriage and careers and motherhood, LIFE, all add extra layers and pressures to our daily existences, and sometimes it’s friendship that takes the backseat.

Have you ever felt like that? Like someone just took their friendship away? I have. Maybe we don’t mean for that to happen. We don’t want for it to happen. Maybe we don’t even realize it’s happened. Then one day we realize it’s been weeks—months—since we’ve talked to someone. Maybe we’ve missed someone’s birthday or some other important milestone in their lives. Maybe we’ve hurt them and haven’t even realized it. Maybe they’ve hurt us. The next thing you know you’re estranged, and you’re not quite sure why. (Or maybe you are, but you don’t know what to do about it, because doing something about it is HARD and SCARY.)

Recently I’ve reconnected with two longtime friends (Hi, Stacey, Hi, Wendy…you better say HI back!) and having them back in my life has been like this great big GIFT dropped down in my lap. With them, there was no falling out, just a drifting apart. Our life paths diverged. Technology (okay, and baseball) brought us back together (thank you, Facebook!), and it’s been wonderful But there are two other friendships that did experience a fracture. I’m really not sure why, but I’m working on fixing those. And yeah, it’s scary. But that’s okay. Friendship is worth it.

Wingmen are worth it.

Make sure you’ve got one. Make sure you are one.

You never know just how important it might be.

(And oh yeah. The whole mammogram thing? Everything turned out fine. Cysts.)

Coming soon to a TV near you

The year was 1991. It was the year I got engaged…and the year I fell in love with a six-foot-something red headed Scottish virgin. (But no, the engagement was not to the redhead) I remember both very distinctly. In fact, those two events are about all I remember from that year. The engagement happened in April. The whole redhead thing happened that fall, at my soon-to-be in-laws house, when I settled in with a book I’d picked up prior to the trip.

outlander cover

You know how it is when you’re still the newcomer…the outsider (or, ahem, the Outlander!)  You’re still trying to fit in and impress. That was totally my intent. But…then I opened that book, and all bets were off. I don’t know what I was expecting–I mean, I love time travel and romance and adventure–but honestly, I don’t think I was expecting much, certainly not to be utterly, completely ABSORBED by a book I’d never heard of before. But I was. I read. And read. And read some more. I read every second I could break away and not be too rude. I read at night. I read long after everyone else went to bed, deep into the wee hours of the morning, and then I read some more. I read until I finished–over 900 pages–and then all I could think about was how quickly I could get my hands on the sequel. (And for what it’s worth, the following year after I did read the sequel, not only did I cry harder than I have for any other book, but I made my sister promise not to read the second book until the third was out, because I didn’t want her to suffer the way I was 🙂

The book was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, the Scotsman, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, aka Jamie. 

jamie

In the ensuing years I consumed each book in the series as soon as it was published, gushing as I did and in the process drawing countless friends and acquaintances into the series. The story grew in ways I never expected. Some installments didn’t thrill me as much as others. But my love affair with the story of Jamie and Claire never wavered…and now, FINALLY, it’s coming to the small screen.

jamie and claire

STARZ has adopted Outlander into a new miniseries, launching NEXT MONTH. August 9th, to be exact!  And I…cannot…WAIT!

So what’s it about? I actually got into an intense discussion with the author once about just that. She insists the series is not a romance, and maybe that’s not the right term. But it’s definitely a sweeping love story. Love between man and woman. Love of family. Love of country. Love of honor and duty…  Truly, it’s all there in a complex, complicated, sweeping, absorbing, engaging story. There’s also mystery and mysticism and history. How’s that for a combination?

Here’s a peek:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YA0aaz8EXRI

If you’re already familiar with Outlander, you know why I’m so excited. If you’re not, trust me on this one. You can thank me later 🙂

(Incidentally, all these years later, the series is STILL GOING…and I’m still dying to see how it all wraps up. You see, there’s a mystery right in the beginning of the very first book..a GHOST to be exact…and I can’t wait to see how and why he’s doing what he’s doing!)

 

 

14 Things I Wish I’d Known at 21

Last week we were at the beach, and as I was slathering on the sunscreen and shielding myself under this wonderful big umbrella, I couldn’t help but notice all these young women (and quite a few who weren’t so young), applying oil rather than sunscreen, then stretching themselves out to broil under the full blaze of the sun. I remember those days. The oil. The sun. The fabulous tan. (And the blistering sunburns!) Last week, however, I found myself watching those young women and thinking…someday you’re probably going to regret that. That got me thinking about the gift of hindsight, and all those other things I wish I’d figured out way before my fourth or fifth decade of life.

That said, without further ado…my list of things I wish I’d known at 21.

  1. Sunscreen and lotion are your FRIENDS. Truly, totally. Your skin is your skin, and while it’s beautiful and taut and glowing at 21, that will change as you age. It will. Lines appear. Blotches. Shadows. Moles. Freckles. And the texture…it won’t always be taut. Gravity does what gravity does, and someday everything will start drooping down. It just will. And the better care you take care of it while you’re young, the better care IT will take of you as you age. Don’t want a leathery hide? Start that sunscreen and lotion routine early.
  2. The importance of a good filing system. This is a BIG one. Huge. I hate clutter. LOATHE it. I like to have things put up…but for a long time I didn’t have any system other than stashing paperwork and photos and cards, receipts, documents into the closest drawer or box or cabinet. I’ve long said that when my kids venture out on their own, their primary housewarming gift is going to be setting them up with a functional filing system, a nice sturdy filing cabinet with pre-labeled files included.
  3. Saving for a rainy day is actually something you need to do. It sounds so clichéd doesn’t it? One of those things everyone talks about, but when those paychecks start rolling in, it’s so much fun to actually SPEND them. But life can turn on a dime, and it’s vital that you have an emergency fund put aside. Worst case, you don’t ever need it and can jaunt off to Paris someday. Best case, you never find yourself without the ability to buy groceries.
  4. Those pictures you take, that you think you’ll never forget who’s in them or what you were doing? Wrong. Label them. Organize them. Photo books are awesome, but even a (virtual) shoebox works. Your future self will thank you.
  5. Not everything is about you. Shocking, I know. But that big beautiful world we’re in? It doesn’t revolve around you, and so many times, the way people treat you has absolutely nothing to do with you. Realize that. Take a deep breath and keep an eye on the bigger picture.
  6. Read. If you stopped, start again. If you never stopped, keep going. Find something you like, something that interests you. Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read poetry. Read physical books. Read on your device. Just READ.
  7. A closed mind is a closed door. You think you’ve got it all figured out? Well, guess what? You don’t. There’s a whole big world out there full of fascinating people and customs and ideas. Keep your mind open. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but if you don’t listen, explore…you’ll never know for sure.
  8. Learn self defense. This is another biggie. Learn how to protect yourself, take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. You can’t count on a knight in shining armor, but you can learn to count on yourself.
  9. As John Green says in The Fault in Our Stars, the world is not a wish-granting factory. I’m sorry. It’s not.Yeah, I wish it was, too. Sometimes. But the only fairy godmother you’ll ever have is yourself, and if you want your wishes to come true, you’ve got to go out and make it happen.
  10. I love you and I’m sorry might just be the five most important words you’ll ever learn. Sometimes they’re hard to say. I know that. Say them anyway. You’ll be better off for it.
  11. What’s on the outside changes; what’s on the inside rarely does. This one has really fascinated me as I’ve gotten older. Sure, I knew the outside would change, but somehow, it can still come as a shock. But the bigger shock is the inside. You are who you are. Your friends are who they are. Your parents, your siblings, they are who they are. And this doesn’t change as you get older. In fact, in many ways you simply become MORE of who you are. Awesome people stay awesome. Jerks stay jerks.
  12. Storms come, and storms go, but they always pass, and the sun always rises. Sometimes it’s so hard to realize this while you’re in one of those storms and your whole world seems to be crashing down around you. It’s so dark and scary and you just want to curl up in a ball and, and, and…I don’t know. But you feel tiny and cold and hopeless. But I’ve learned that tomorrow comes, and tomorrow after that, and no matter how devastating the storm, the sun will rise again, and with it a new day will begin.
  13. No one gets to write your life, except you. Bad chapters always end, and new ones always begin. This one is powerful, the realization that YOU are in charge of your life, and no one else. Don’t like something? Change it. LOVE something…protect it. There is no puppet master, no one forcing you to be miserable. You get to make those decisions. You get to write those chapters. You. No one else…unless you let them.
  14. There’s no substitute for kindness. Truly and honestly. Money, good looks, great clothes, an awesome car, the dream job….they don’t trump kindness. Surround yourself with kindness, kind friends, kind lovers, and practice it yourself. Be kind. Always.

 

The Book That Changed My Life

I come from a long line of worriers. We’re incredibly good at it. I have vivid memories of my grandmother from when I was a little girl, anxiously waiting at the door when we would arrive for a visit, and laying into my dad for being (a few minutes) late. She had us in a terrible accident, gravely injured and en-route to the hospital, rather than simply a tad behind schedule. The modern age of cell phones could have saved her a lot of worry.

Then there’s my little girl. She’s rather accomplished at worrying, too. She worries about tests. She worries when she doesn’t feel well. She worries if someone looks at her the wrong way. She worries about the status of her friendships. She even worries if she realizes she’s not worried, because that makes her worry that she’s forgotten what she’s should be worried about. Seriously. She told me that.

And then there’s me. I definitely honor my worrying heritage. I had all the same worries as my daughter, and then I went through a decade of infertility and miscarriages, and high-risk, high-stress pregnancies, and my anxiety/worrying soared off the charts. Sometimes I could barely breathe. It’s probably partially why I developed Bell’s Palsy while pregnant with my son (who doctor’s warned us, you may recall, wouldn’t make it.)

So there I am one day when my husband sits down with me and tells me he wants me to read a book. At that point I was still voraciously reading fiction (before two kids I actually had time!), and he was handing me a non-fiction book. More than non-fiction, it was one of those self-help jobbies. To say I was skeptical is an understatement. But being on bed-rest left me lots of time, and eventually I cracked the pretty pale green cover and checked out what was inside.

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Within hours, my life changed.

Aptly named, THE POWER OF NOW by the wonderful Eckhart Tolle deals with living in the moment. Too often we sentence ourselves to a prison of the past, living the darkest moments of our lives over and over, saturating ourselves with them–punishing ourselves. Or, conversely, we travel forward, projecting ourselves into moments yet to come…frequently dark moments, worst-case scenarios…moments that may never come. It’s like a mammogram. We go in for the test and almost automatically feel the twist of anxiety over a possible bad result. And if we get that call about some abnormality, our mind takes off, and suddenly we’re already battling cancer and thinking about the devastation of not being around to raise our children. And these thoughts are like poison. They flood our body with their toxic power, forcing us to live through the horror of what we’re imagining, a horror that may never come to pass…even though the moment that we’re in is a perfectly fine moment…a moment that we’ve just lost, because we were projecting forward, rather than staying where we are. Thanks all the same, but when it comes to the bad stuff, I’d much rather experience it only once, rather than over and over again. It’s like taking a drive through the worst part of town. Maybe you have to do it once…but why do it daily if you don’t need to?

Our bodies respond to our thoughts. It’s the whole fight or flight thing, with the flood of adrenaline to keep us safe from the wooly mammoth. But when our thoughts are trapped in fight or flight mode 24/7, our body is constantly primed for battle—and survival. And nobody can live like that, not healthily. What fascinated me was to learn that from a purely physiological standpoint, our body cannot differentiate between reality, dreams, memories…or any other kind of thought. You know the dream you wake up from, the really amazing dream or the really terrifying one, and your heart is slamming and your body is on fire, as if what you’d seen behind closed eyes really happened. Or how when you meditate, you close your eyes and focus on a happy memory, a sun-drenched beach or snow-topped mountain, a babbling stream in a field of poppies. These are peaceful images, and when you wrap your mind in them, your body responds as if you’re really there…because your body can’t tell the difference. Your body reacts to your mind…and the real power comes when you realize that you control your mind (not the other way around.)

Tolle’s insight was life changing for me, having often destructive life-patterns spelled out for me like that, the way that I was torturing myself with my own thoughts. I realized that even though bad things might happen, I only wanted to live them once, rather than over and over. I realized that, more often than not, the dooms day scenario my mind concocts (and I react to) never comes to pass. And I realized that the past was over. Truly, it is. Yes, events of the past shape us and change us, and yes sometimes really horrific things happen, but to actually go back and relive those moments amounts to self-torture. A far more productive path is to live in the present moment. We can’t change the past. Ever. It’s over, done. We can only move forward…and if you keep looking in the rearview mirror–or worse, turning backwards–you’ll never see what’s ahead.

A few of my favorite quotes:

“Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind — or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body”

“Pleasure is always derived from something outside you, whereas joy arises from within”

“Nobody’s life is entirely free of pain and sorrow. Isn’t it a question of learning to live with them rather than trying to avoid them?

“Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath”

The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self-created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life.

The pain that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. On the level of thought, the resistance is some form of judgment. On the emotional level, it is some form of negativity. The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment, and this in turn depends on how strongly you are identified with your mind.”

“The quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future — which, of course, can only be experienced as the Now”

“Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are cause by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence” (SERIOUSLY…think about that!)

“Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.”

Truly, I can’t recommend Tolle’s book enough, particularly if you struggle with anxiety or find yourself prisoner to the past. Do yourself a beautiful favor. Give NOW a try. It might just change your life, too.

 

 

822 Grams

I’ve touched on this a little in a few blogs, but I’ve never dedicated a blog to the topic, not until now. Today. Six years later.

My memories are sketchy. They come and go like images from a long ago slide show. Some are starker than others, they play over and over, while others surface only every now and then. Sometimes it seems like only yesterday, other times like another life, another person, a story I read long ago.

I remember the day we got the test results back, a strong HCG reading. Very strong actually. And the follow-up test results, an HCG number that way more than doubled. A good sign…but also a possible indicator of twins, or more.

I remember stalling on scheduling the sonogram, because I was so terrified of what it might show. Eventually, my nurse called me asking me to come in…

I remember the relief of seeing only one baby, and one very strong heartbeat. I remember the daily injections, a blood thinner and progesterone.

I remember deciding with my husband not to tell anyone, not until we were past twelve weeks, just to be sure. Just to be safe. We’d been down that road before, and getting everyone’s hopes up again was something we didn’t want to do.

I remember the 12-week sonogram, and the 15-week sonogram, showing a strong healthy boy. But still we held quiet.

I remember around 16 weeks our little girl, 4 at the time, coming downstairs in the middle of the night and climbing into bed with us, sleepily telling us how happy she was that her twin brother, who’d died at 19 weeks while still in the womb with her, was finally coming to be part of our family. We had not said a word to her yet about the pregnancy.

I remember the phone call from a friend—a friend who knows things. She was calling to talk to me about the baby, to tell me that he had a marvelous sense of humor and to warn me that he was coming early…but that he would be okay. I had not yet told her of the pregnancy.

I remember the appointment, so, so vividly. The doctor, a perinatologist, the same one who’d performed the sonogram that revealed our daughter’s twin brother had passed away half way during the pregnancy. He was a youngish man, around our age. Blond. I remember the way he looked at me that first time, the uncomfortable sympathy in his eyes. I remember seeing that again, and I remember the instant sheet of cold that slipped through my body. We were eighteen weeks along, but our baby’s growth had slowed…just like the twin we lost, and the baby girl before him. Tests were inconclusive. No one knew why he was slowing, only that he was…and chances of a viable pregnancy were low.

I remember having to tell the family about the pregnancy—and the complication—all in one numbing conversation.

I remember going from specialist to specialist, each of them with a different opinion. Downs was discussed and dismissed. A heart condition ruled out.

I remember the kindly older Spanish doctor who finally seemed to comprehend what was going on. I remember seeing him several times a week for him to measure blood flow through my umbilical cord. I remember sitting in the waiting room with my husband each time, terrified of what the coming sonogram might show.

I remember touring the NICU at 22 weeks…just in case. Just to be ready. I remember meeting with the neonatologist. I remember all the things he told us, all the things that can go wrong with preemie babies.

I remember going on bedrest, my mother and my mother-in-law taking turns caring for me and the household, for my husband, my daughter. I remember all the food that got piled into me, in the hopes that if I kept growing, our baby boy would grow as well.

I remember waking up one morning and about an hour later realizing my left eye wouldn’t close. I remember looking into the mirror and realizing it was the entire left side of my face, frozen in Bell’s Palsy.

I remember being in the hospital for almost four weeks, so the medical staff could keep a closer eye on me. I remember the days and nights in the bed, with too much time alone with my thoughts. I remember the loneliness, the fear, the hospital food…and three times/day stress tests to monitor our little boy’s heart.

I remember the day of my little girl’s dance recital, my wonderful neighbor who dressed her and did her make-up, who brought her to me. I remember seeing two little four year olds giggling and dancing in the hospital room.

I remember the morning of Friday, May 30, going to see the kindly older Spanish doctor for a routine sonogram that turned out to be anything but. I remember him telling me “today was the day”….because he’d seen something he didn’t like. I remember calling my husband, in a meeting at work. And my mother, who ran for her car and started the long drive from Louisiana.

I remember the nurse—the amazing, wonderful, kind, dedicated nurse—who decided to put the belts on me until they took me down to L&D, just in case. I remember watching the readout…and seeing my baby’s heart-rate growing weaker. I remember the nurse rushing in, my husband by my side, the gurney race down to L&D. I remember my doctor walking in from lunch…the second he realized what was going on. I remember the drink in his hand, a yellow fast food cup a straw coming out the top. I remember him tossing it on a counter and coming to me.

I remember the race to the operating room, how fast everyone was moving, how efficient, how wordlessly. I remember my doctor’s nurse coming in and taking my hand, and promising me she wouldn’t let go. I remember the gas mask coming down on my face. And I remember the voice, right as I was going under, another nurse, her words: He’s crashing.

I remember coming to sometime later, but not opening my eyes, not wanting to, not until I knew what I was waking up to. I remember lying there with my eyes closed, drifting, listening to various murmurs. Finally I remember hearing my sister say, “Isn’t he beautiful?” and then I opened my eyes.

I remember the shock of hearing 1 lb, 13 oz, of being wheeled on the gurney to the NICU, of seeing him for the first time, my little boy, my baby, so tiny and reddish purple, his skin stretched over his skeleton like parchment, his eyes darting around the brightness in confusion and fear. I remember that it hurt to look at him. I remember that I was not allowed to touch him, because just that, my touch, might have been too much for his immature nervous (and immune) system.

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I remember awaking that night in a panic attack, but having just had a C-section, being barely able to move. I remember throwing things across the hospital room to wake my husband up, so he could go down to the NICU and check on our little boy. I remember him being gone for a long, long time, and my imagination doing cruel, cruel things.

After that, it all blurs, the days and nights and weeks and months. He was small and fragile but healthy. He needed time to grow. For his body to gain strength and learn how to function on its own. I remember all the monitors, new terms like micropreemie and NEC and Brady, Pulse Ox and brain bleeds. (And yeah…wimpy white boys.) I remember countless hours sitting by his isolette, kangarooing him for the first time, calling the hospital all hours of the night for status updates and hanging onto every single gram he gained—or lost. I remember the miracle workers, the doctors and nurses who cared for him.

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I remember all that, and today, six years later, I celebrate. I celebrate milestones big and small. I celebrate hope and faith and love, the power of miracles. I celebrate smiles and laughter and mischievousness, a relentless thirst for life and an unstoppable spirit. Today I celebrate my little guy.

Look out world, he’s got big plans for you.

Jack then now

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Very Worst of Me

Oh-h-h, she has your smile. She talks like you, too. Walks like you. And wow, her eyes. They’re the exact same as your husband’s. Same color of blue. Same laser intensity. And your little boy…look at him, he’s the spitting image of you. Everything, his hair, the twinkle in his eyes, the shape of his face…

I hear these things and I smile. They warm my heart. They’re the kind of thing I use to wonder about, dream about. How would my kids be like me? How would they be like my husband? Which features would they inherit? I tended to think they would be the very best of me…the very best of him. Of us. Like our own personal greatest hits.

 

ourfamily

But there’s another side to the equation, a side I never thought about until I actually had children. We, each of us, have good traits, good features, characteristics, but we also have those that we aren’t so fond of. That maybe need work, improvement. That we struggle with…wish we could change. There’s the very best of us, and the very worst. And our children inherit both.

I’m a worrier. Always have been, probably always will be. I’m not real happy about this, but for as long as I can remember, my mind always runs to the worst possible scenario. If someone was late getting home, they’d been in a car accident. They were in a ditch somewhere, horribly injured, or worse. If a friend was unresponsive to me, or looked at me the wrong way, or heck, maybe their voice just wasn’t right or they didn’t return my call…they hated me. I’d done something terrible to them, and now they were done with me. Airplane turbulence…we were going down. A headache…an aneurysm. A summons to my boss’s office…I was fired. You get the picture.

Yeah, not a real fun way to be.

This is something I’ve really worked on in my adult life, to overcome this near debilitating habit of worrying. Then, one horrible day, I noticed my daughter doing it. She heard a weather forecast. There was a chance of storms. Maybe even a tornado. And suddenly she was beside herself, freaking out that there was going to be a tornado and we were going to die. Another day it was the thought of a test the next week, a big test by third grade standards, but suddenly she was extrapolating failure on that test out all the way to failure to get into a good college, which meant she wouldn’t have a good education, wouldn’t get a good job… Once she even told me that she got worried when she realized she wasn’t worried, because that made her worry that she was forgetting what she was supposed to be worried about.

Houston, we have a problem. Right there in that sweet little child of mine….the very, very worst of me, the big, bad dark cloud that followed me everywhere.

Ah, baby. I’m so sorry. THAT is not something I wanted to share with you. My eyes, my mouth, my smile….those. That’s what I wanted for you.

Then there’s my son. He’s the one that favors me, from a physical perspective, much more closely. But…he’s also got my emotional makeup. And my cognitive. And so much more. You can’t tell him to do (or not do) anything. You can’t spare him an accident, or pain. He’s got to learn it himself, often the hard way.

Just like me. (My daughter, she’ll actually listen…just like her father…)

So I realize it one day. Holy cow, these poor sweet kids. They inherited some of the best of me, but some of the worst, too. (For the record, they got the best and worst my husband, too!) It’s a total mixed bag…and it’s so, so sobering.  (The good, the bad, the ugly, anyone?) It’s like some kind of karmic, cosmic joke, I found myself thinking.

Or lesson.

What better way to force you out of your own destructive habits, your own neurosis or blind-spots, than the desire to spare you kids, show them a better way? Seeing my own struggles manifest in my children both challenges and inspires me to step up and be a better version of myself. I want better for them. I don’t want them to get stuck in the same traps I did, the same train wrecks, to deal with the same self-inflicted wounds. I don’t want my daughter to worry herself into an ulcer, or my son to learn every lesson the hard way. It’s so eye-opening sometimes, when maybe I’m lost in my own worry, but suddenly see my daughter descending into her worry (often about the same thing), and suddenly I’m cast in a different role. No longer can I wallow in my own worry because now, as a parent to this little person I love beyond imagine, it’s my job to teach her a different way. A better way. I’ve got to find a way through my own dark forest…so I can help her find a way. And my son…I’ve got to put aside my own emotional volatility and figure out how to rein him in without stomping on his spirit…and without him realizing he’s being corralled. (It’s fascinating to look back and realize this is a trait I inherited from my father, which, I know now, is why we butted heads so famously when I was growing up. I didn’t like being dictated to…and neither did/does he. And neither does my son.)

It’s something I tell my nieces, half jokingly, half not. That guy you’re dating? The really hot one or the really exciting one? The one who sometimes drives you notes? Who you think you might want to marry? Just remember, you’re going to end up raising a little him…the good, and the bad 🙂

The very best of us, and the very worst of us. A composite. That’s what our kids are. A mirror, inside and out. And a chance, I’m coming to think, a chance to step outside ourselves and help create something different, better.

We can’t undo our past, but the future—our children’s future—is yet to be written.

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How do you want to change their story, from your own?

 

(Photo credit: Wendy Valderrama, Valderrama Photography, http://www.valderramaphotography.com)