Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Here's What Your Kids SHOULD Be Doing This Summer

Once the temperature heats up, social media becomes a hot spot for summer reading lists.  I've seen everything from collections of simple beach reads to heavy page-turners that you won't be able to put down for 96 hours straight.

What I have yet to see, unfortunately, is a list of fresh and interesting picture books for young children.  Whether to educate, inspire or just bring about a good giggle, here are some books I highly recommend you try out with your children this summer.

Click here to hop on over to The Mid to check out my list!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Why Stranger Isn't Always A Bad Word: My (Long Overdue) Operation Christmas Child 2014 Update

“How can a God exist when there is so much famine in the world?”

A Pastor once told me that for those questioning their faith, this is a concern most commonly voiced.  His response was quite simple.

The earth is filled with abundance.  There is more than enough to go around.  God did his job.  Now it is the responsibility of the people to share those gifts appropriately.

This post has been a long time coming, ever since I started collecting donations for my most recent Operation Christmas Child Project in the summer of 2014.  I knew that August, nearly one year ago, that our work would leave a much larger footprint than ever before.  How did I know?  One word.


I began contributing to Operation Christmas Child as an individual after my daughters were born.  Then in 2012 I decided to use this blog as a platform to collect donations from families and friends.  The response was overwhelming, not in size per say, but in the relationships I had with those that contributed.  I heard from people that had been out of touch for over a decade, sometimes two.  But there was always a direct personal connection.  If we were playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but with me as Kevin Bacon, everyone would have connected within one degree.  So boring.

So last year, that all changed.

First I heard from Melanie Mascari, a woman from my hometown area who’s employer, SARAH Tuxis (a non-profit agency that provides creative supports for individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and their families), educates their staff about one charitable project each month.  It is completely up to the employee whether or not they choose to contribute, but the opportunity is there.  When Melissa asked me if she could share my blog post with her co-workers as part of their monthly iniative, I almost fell off my feet.  When I large box then arrived at my doorstep with donations from SARAH Tuxis, I peed my pants.  A little.

Next I heard from a former cast member (and friend) who had shared the project with some of her co-workers who wanted to contribute.  Then another woman who was dating a guy she wasn’t too sure about, but was happy to hear he wanted to send the biggest monetary donation I’d ever received.  She and I went shopping together (on his dime) and took photos of all we were able to purchase with his help.  Their relationship may not have lasted, but the impact of his gifts certainly did.

Gifts from strangers.

Come November, as with every year, our spare bedroom turned into Santa’s Workshop.  My daughters helped me sort through all of the products we had received, and spend the monetary donations to fill in the holes of what we lacked.  That work, while exhausting, has proven more and more meaningful (and emotional) each year.  In the end, we donated nearly 100 shoeboxes PACKED with goodies for children who would receive nothing else on Christmas morning.

When completing the paperwork for each box and paying it’s shipping cost (which I incur personally), I am able to track the packages.  In 2012, our boxes went to Panama.  In 2013, they went to Madagascar.  In 2014, they went to the Philippines.  (My 7yo is a huge Manny Pacquaio fan, so this news was a big hit.)

Next month, I will begin taking contributions for the 2015 collection.

Got a drawer full of (unopened) soaps and shampoos from hotels?  I’ll take ‘em.

Tired of the unnecessary crap kids receive in goodie bags these days?  Send it my way.

Whether you want to shop alone for a moment of peace and quiet or with your kids to teach a lesson about social responsibility, go for it.  Whether you want to write a check or save a tree by clicking on PayPal instead, that works too.  Or, if times are tight and you want simply to make a handmade holiday card, that is the very best gift of all.

There is something for everyone.

(Isn’t that what abundance is all about anyway?)

Thank you to everyone who helped make this year’s project so memorable that it took me months to collect my thoughts on it well enough to share.

And, to you, thank you for reading.

Monday, June 29, 2015

3 Mistakes My Mother Made With Me (Sorry, Mom) That I Don't Want To Make With My Daughters

Of all the things I do for my daughters, I wonder how many will actually be remembered.

Don't get me wrong.  Everything I do, from stroking their feverish foreheads all night to slaving for hours over cake pops that will never look a thing like they do on Pinterest, is done completely out of love.  I don't keep a tally nor do I leave Post-It Note reminders of the moments I hope will be remembered.  Still, I wonder.  And here's why.

My daughters and I recently planted Venus Fly Trap and Sundew Savage seeds into a terrarium complete with red and blue LED lights.  As we read aloud about everything from the most fertile soil to seedlings that would eventually become carnivores, my husband entered the room and asked if my mother did as much stuff with me as I do with my 5 and 7 year olds.  While I know for sure that she did, I can recall only a select few times.

I can, however, remember in great detail the few things she did that really upset me.  For example:

1)         I come from a large family full of hockey players.  Boys learned as babies how to ice skate with chairs on homemade, backyard rinks before moving up to peewee leagues, high school state championships and Division I collegiate teams.  So, growing up in a home where the smell of a musty hockey bag was just as familiar as that of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, it should come as no surprise that I (literally) wanted a piece of the game.  But no sooner did I tell my parents that I wanted to be an ice hockey goalie than my mother put me in skates of my own.  Unfortunately though, they were figure skates.  Those frilly lessons were very short-lived.  Eventually I gave up not only on pestering my parents, but on dreaming to play the sport.  That is, until I entered my freshman year at Boston College just as they were developing their women's team.  I remind my mother to this day that had I been allowed to play, allowed to pursue my dream, I just may have had a chance at a scholarship.  She responds, very adamantly I might add, that what we'd have saved in my tuition, we'd have spent in my dental bills.  (Touché, Mom. Touché.)

2)         I was a very private teenager, or at least I tried to be. My mother was the kind that almost always knew exactly what was happening in my life without my having to say a word, so much so that I prided myself on her being incorrect.  So when my very first junior high yearbook came home with what I considered insanely personal inscriptions from all my friends, I begged her not to read them.  Little did I know at the time that begging the parent of a teenager not to do something almost always guarantees that they will do just that.  Immediately.  Therefore when I found her reading the messages, which couldn't have been any more racy than Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, I was mortified.  To this day, I have vowed not to do the same to my daughter (or at least not to get caught).

3)         When my brother was a senior at boarding school, my parents helped he and his friends put together a winter break co-ed ski trip.  I remember vividly hearing my mother put the security deposit for a condo on her credit card while making arrangements for my brother to have her four-wheel drive vehicle for the trek.  As a much better student and a mere fraction of the trouble my brother was, I anxiously awaited the day my parents would offer me the same arrangement.  So when time came to plan a similar getaway for my friends, I was shocked to learn there'd be no such offering.  Determined to know why, I asked my mother repeatedly for an explanation as to how my brother could receive such preferential treatment.  Frustrated with my persistence and at the end of her rope, my mother finally screamed her frighteningly honest answer.  "Because your brother can't get pregnant!"  (Go ahead.  Gasp.)

I do honestly believe the sweetest moments shared with my mother are the ones that shaped me into the mother and woman I am today.  However, they've really all merged to become more the memory of one happy, inspired childhood than a collection of individually blessed experiences.  Sadly, it's the ugly ones that still stand out.

No one wants to be remembered more for their weaknesses than their strengths.  In parenting, especially for a good parent (and my mother was an amazing one), I can imagine no greater injustice.

I'd like to say that I learned from (what I deemed as) my mother's mistakes, especially the few described above.  I'd also like to believe I will never make a similar decision that will hurt or haunt my daughter into adulthood, but I know that will never happen.  In fact, I don't want it to happen.  For if it does, I've likely failed her in some way.

So please, will one of you remind my daughter of that when she is a teenager?

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Gift I Got From Getting Robbed

I'm going way back with this story...

Joe and I had been married a couple of years and were living in our first Los Angeles apartment.  I was driving a black Tahoe, my favorite non-Maserati car until they changed the body a few years ago.

I walked out of our house and into our nice neighborhood, to my car that'd been parked on the street overnight.  Reaching into my bag for the key (yes, we used actual keys back then) I noticed a small crack in the fiberglass surrounding the keyhole.

I took a walk around the car and noticed no other visible damage.  But anticipating that I may put the body repair through my car insurance, I wanted documentation of the damage.

I got into my car and called the police department to file a report.  The officer explained that with even just that small crack, a thief could have entered the car.  "Is anything missing?", he asked.  I quickly checked the stereo, CD holder (God, I'm old), sunglass holder and change compartment.  I assured him everything was intact.

"Are you sure nothing is missing from the car?", the officer repeated.  "It's all here," I answered.

I hung up the phone, started the engine and looked over my shoulder before backing the car out of it's space.  That's when I noticed that my entire third row seat was missing.

Dialing the police department right back, I asked to speak with the same officer who'd taken the initial report.  He laughed as I explained my discovery of the missing chairs.  Apparently third row seats for that car were a hot item on the black market and the moment I'd relayed the vehicle's make and model, the officer knew exactly what the thieves were going for.

My mind was a little blown- partly because we lived in a highly populated area with a lot of nightlife and neighbors milling about 24/7, but also because there had to have been at least 3 people on the job to lift the monstrous seat and get it into a pickup truck.

What assholes.  Ninja-like assholes.

The insurance claim was filed and the seats were replaced without a hitch.  Still, I've thought about that morning several times in the decade since it first occurred, for reasons other than what you might assume.  The message it leaves with me is nothing about theft or car insurance.  The lesson is way greater than that.  When I think of what happened that morning, I remember one thing.

I didn't look back.

Simply put, had I looked behind me, I'd have known from the start what was missing.

Lately life has felt to me like a race to the finish line.  Everyone wants to have the best run, the best time, the biggest win.  And people are afraid to back, for fear that it will slow their forward momentum.

My experience has been just the opposite.  It's only in looking back that I learn from past experiences and have an opportunity moving forward to grow from them.

Looking back, that officer did way more than take an incident report.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Things You Never Want To Hear Your Daughter Say (No Matter Her Age)

No matter her age, there are things you dread hearing out of your growing daughter's mouth.  When she is young, there are so many.

* Where was I not supposed to use the Sharpie again?

* It's stuck in my nose (which I guess is preferable to other orifices).

* "Shh. We can do it before they wake up!"

* What's lice?

Or sometimes, even more frightening than words out of a young child's mouth, is silence...

Then almost overnight, or at least it seems, she's a young lady.  "Stop it, that tickles!" becomes "Stop it, that's embarrassing!"  From that point on, those phrases you do not want to hear take on a totally different meaning.

* I am heartbroken.

* I failed.

* I hate you.

* I'm pregnant (way sooner than I want to be).

* I'm not enough.

Thankfully, or at least hopefully, these are all things from which she can learn, heal or grow.  In fact, as difficult as they may be to hear, there are important life lessons that come with each.

There are, however, those pesky statements or questions to which I never know how to respond, such as:

* You mean chicken comes from a REAL CHICKEN?

I knew it was coming.  She's too intelligent, too perceptive not to pick up on this simple (yet complicated) concept.  And from the look of sheer disgust on her face, I knew exactly what she was thinking.

I have considered being a vegetarian many times in my life.  (Watch the PBS Frontline special "The Trouble With Chicken" and I guarantee you will do the same.)  I'm not sure if it is my incredibly anemic body, the joy of being a carnivore or just plain laziness that has kept me from trying out the lifestyle.  But, this isn't about me.

My daughter is seven and I believe that if she knew what vegetarianism is, she'd want it more than she wants that $200 set of Legos.  The thing is, she is old enough to want nice Legos.  I don't think she is old enough to decide to become a vegetarian.

I love the way her mind works.  I love the young "woman" she is becoming.  I just don't love the fear (mine, not hers) that comes along with it.

I want my children to be free-thinkers... progressive... adventurers.  I really do.  I just want them to do it on my terms for a bit longer.

So, I guess I'll add one more point to this list of things a parent doesn't want to hear.  This one is for my own benefit.

* You can't always get what you want.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

That Time My 7yo Asked For A Fairy Tale, But I Shared A Nightmare

Days before her 7th birthday, my daughter asked for a bedtime story.  And while I’ll admit that I do try to make mine a bit more creative than a standard fairytale, I certainly hadn’t planned in advance the adventure I chose that night. I’ve tried to recreate the story here, of course with a bit of embellishment, but the message is still the same.

“There was once a girl more beautiful than you could imagine, both inside and out. She wasn’t a princess or a dancer or a popular singer; she was full of even more magic than that.  She was curious, and read books whenever she could. She loved science, dinosaurs, animals and volcanoes. She rode her scooter on voyages (without leaving the yard) and created museum-worthy masterpieces with sidewalk chalk.

She did well in school, always giving the very best effort possible.  She was respectful of her teachers, thoughtful with her friends and a good listener at home (most of the time). In her parent’s eyes she was just perfect, and had been since the time she was merely a twinkle in their eye.

Then one day, things changed suddenly. The energy she exuded just wasn’t the same. She was less of a page-turner, less of an inventor, less of herself. Soon the neighborhood kids came by less often. There were fewer requests for play dates, fewer trips to the local library, fewer adventures of any kind, really.”

At this point, the story had clearly taken a turn. But once my mind caught back up with my mouth, and based on the events taking place at our home for the week prior, I realized exactly where my story was headed. And there was no turning back.

“See, a week or so earlier, the beautiful girl had picked something up and never put it down (or, so it seemed.) She rushed to get ready for school in the morning so she could have a few moments with it before heading out the door. She ate dinner with her family too quickly and sat on the edge of her seat waiting to be excused so she could have it some more. One time, her mother even found her pretending to be going to the bathroom so she could sit on the toilet and hold it without interruption.

At first, her parents had let her have at it. What harm could she really do? This was a phase, they assumed. And making a bigger deal about it or putting restrictions on it would only make her want it more. So they sat, waiting, and hoping the realization they wished for her would present itself on it’s own. Sadly, it didn’t.”

At this point, my daughter was nearly asleep. Any other evening, I would have tucked her in, kissed her forehead, repeated the nightly prayer my mother recited over me one million times and softly crept out of the room before she heard me.  But tonight, even I needed to know how this story ended. I continued.

“Before long, gone were the lights behind her eyes. Gone were the stories of what treasures she and a classmate had discovered in the yard during recess. And, gone were the scraps of paper her mother would find beside her bed stand that started with a warning that the pages were private, and ended with a sentence or drawing as curious as her.

So before going to bed that night, the mother of that beautiful girl made sure just one more thing was gone: the girl’s iPad. And by morning, just like that, her magic was back.”

Just like that. I know. That is where the “fairytale” part rings true.

I fear there will be times in the future when my daughters will lose a bit of themselves, and I may not be able to help them retrieve it. I also know that this story, though believed to be for my eldest, was just as much for me.

There are certainly times when magic can be created in an instant. But more often than not, it takes time and nurturing to cultivate something magical. So once we have it, it needs to be both cherished and protected. That way, if someday it leaves you forever, you will appreciate it all the more.

Friday, March 27, 2015

On That TINY Spot of Blood That Made HUGE Headlines

I got boobs before any of my classmates.  And like they were an ugly birthmark, or some other unsightly two dimensional thingy I could easily cover, I tried to hide them.


I failed.  Big time.

This was the first of many challenges I would attempt to ignore as a growing girl, excusing it as "a woman thing".

Soon after, I was the first of my friends to get my period and was so embarrassed to tell my mother that I made her guess what the big news was that I had to share.  (A registered nurse and super attentive mother, she got the correct answer straight out of the gate.)

Then, I got fat.  Not fat enough that people would point or make fun of me, but just fat enough.  I wore t-shirts over my bathing suits and spent weeks shopping for the dresses I'd wear to dances that I'd attend without a date.

Next, came the Freshman Fifteen.  Granted I had so much fun in college that the bars should have paid me tuition, but I got heavier.  And heavier.

After graduation, I joined my first gym just because everyone else was doing it.  One day on the treadmill, likely walking the same speed at which I'd walk to the bathroom to pee in the middle of the night, I spotted a friend who'd clearly received a complete body transformation along with her diploma.  Long (life-changing) story short, she FORCED me to meet with her new personal trainer.

A year later, I was in the best shape of my life.  I'd completed two marathons, was in true love for the first time in my life, had a great job, my own apartment and a one-way ticket to an eating disorder.  I don't believe I was ever too thin, but I wasn't me.  I remember my Grandfather telling me I looked like an Ethiopian, and part of me took it as a compliment.

Fast forwarding a bit, I got married to the man of my dreams, had a career that I loved, and a baby in my belly.  (That's definitely a woman thing.)

So for the first time since that day I'd made my mom guess, I didn't have a period.  But in exchange I had a myriad of other issues, including a bulging hernia that made it look like I was giving birth not only to a little girl but an alien sibling.  That meant I was headed for both a c-section and an abdominal hernia repair (at the same time) for both of my pregnancies.

Every woman will say that her body was "never the same" after having children, but that expression takes on a different meaning for me.  Post-pregnancy brought on aches, pains, anemia and fatigue like I'd never experienced.  Numerous vials of blood and doctors appointments later, I was diagnosed with Lupus.  That disease, fatal for many, is something I deal with on a daily basis.  The presentation of the disease came with my first pregnancy, was exacerbated by my second and is now the reason I cannot have a third.  Though a very small of percentage of those with Lupus are men, it's mostly a woman thing.

And, it all started with my very first period.  My "friend".

But thank God it did.  Because if it didn't, I wouldn't have this.

I'd never really thought fondly of my menstrual cycle before today.  In the past, it has been nothing but a super heavy annoyance.

Thanks to Rupi and Prabh Kaur, brave sisters who made the curious decision to share a photo series called "Period" on their social media before it being quickly and unjustly censored as "inappropriate", I will look at this gift of life very differently moving forward.

I can't begin to put into words exactly how this situation has made me feel, not only about womanhood but about our freedom of expression, discrimination and censorship, but I strongly suggest you read about it for yourself.

This isn't just a woman thing.