Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Hardest Breakup Letter I've Ever Had To Write

Frankly, this is something I should have done a long time ago.  It's been on my mind for years, but whenever I looked back upon all that we have been through together, I just didn't have the heart.

You have provided for me a tremendously invaluable security.  When I was a scared little girl, you were my comfort zone.  You were there for the very first steps I ever took.  And when I fell, as we all do, you caught my fall.  You were my coziest pajamas and hot cocoa on a cold winter's night and my breath of fresh air on a much needed summertime adventure.  Somehow you taught me all there was to know about being a young child, for which I can never repay you.

As I moved into my incredibly difficult and awkward teenage years, again you were right there beside me, never letting go of my hand.  You saw everything from my ugliest hairstyle to my very first kiss (and some other firsts I don't care to mention) but loved me anyway.  There isn't a doubt in my mind that I loved you just as much.

It wasn't until my graduation from high school that things really began to change between us.  The more you protected me, the more I needed to take my own risks.  The more I replied upon your shelter, the more I needed to spread my own wings.  In a way it's like the stronger our connection grew, the more it confined me.  And I needed to break free.

It wasn't until we took time apart, several years in fact, that I saw and felt what I'd been missing.  What I'd thought was all I ever needed turned out to be nothing but the pitter-patter of a childhood crush compared to the true love I uncovered when I left.  Still, I tried.  I'd return to you every once in a while, for a holiday or special occasion, but it just wasn't the same.

They say that if you really love something, you need to let it go.  If it comes back to you, it is yours to keep.  But if it doesn't, it was never meant to be.  That's how I know my decision to leave was the best one for me.

The miles between us are far greater than I ever expected.  (There are 2,982 of them, to be exact.)  And my memories with you are irreplaceable.  I undoubtedly flourished with you... You helped mold me into the woman, wife and mother that I am today.  And it is for exactly that reason that I will never be back.

Leaving you was one of the more difficult break-up decisions I've ever had to make, but I couldn't be more grateful for it.  Thank you, my dear hometown, for being all that you are and all that you will never be.

Love, Me

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

7 Parenting Rules I Flat Out Refuse To Follow

Rules, rules, rules.  Every day is something new.

We need to drink more milk.  Eat less sugar.  Get more sleep.  Spend less time on our devices.  Exercise more.  And drink less alcohol, unless it's red wine, in which case 1.5 glasses per evening with a well-balanced dinner is good for you.

I don't mind being inundated with recommendations from doctors or even self-proclaimed "experts" telling me how to stay a healthy adult.  What I do mind, however, is being boldly told what I should and shouldn't do with my children.

Before you go having a temper tantrum, I fully recognize the hypocrisy I described.  I just don't care.

My concern is that we've become such a hypersensitive and hypercritical society that we almost get off on telling others what they should and should not do.  I live in Los Angeles where seemingly anyone with a heartbeat can add "expert" or "of the stars" to their name just because they want to.  I've learned to take every bit advice with a grain of salt.

So, here are 7 of the most popular parenting rules that I refuse to follow.

1) Don't say "awesome job".

Experts believe that using exclamations like "awesome job" and "good work" too frequently can lead to a child feeling as though they've let you down when they aren't, well... awesome.  Others suggest that such phrases can lead to a child performing well only to receive praise.

I believe if my daughter does so well that I am truly compelled to tell her she's done an awesome job, she deserves to hear it.  This goes for anything from coloring within the lines to scoring a 1600 on the SATs (which I pray are as irrelevant as Vanilla Ice is now by the time she is old enough to take them).  Squashing or suppressing my own excitement about the feat may lead to her doing the same, potentially causing way more harm.

2) Don't be a best friend.

I've vacillated back and forth on this one, but often find myself telling each of my daughters she is my best friend.  And I mean it.  Is she the best friend I call hysterically crying after a vicious argument with my spouse?  No.  And she certainly isn't the one with whom I want to share all my deepest, darkest secrets.  But I do want to be that friend to her.

I want her to know that she can tell me anything at anytime.  I want her to know I will support her, guide her, believe in her and love her no matter what.  I want to be there for her during the most difficult and most joyful moments of her life, whether or not she is there for mine.  To me, that's what being a best friend is all about.

3) Don't let your child watch more than (some tiny number) minutes of television daily.

Our pediatrician didn't want my children to see a frame of television before they were two years old and no more than twenty minutes a day for some time after that.  For me this was as difficult to accomplish as standing atop the Empire State Building while balancing a couch on one hand and a grand piano on the other.  Never going to happen.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children watch an average of 6 hours and 32 minutes of television daily, which I agree is complete blasphemy.  But somewhere between 20 and 392 minutes, there is a middle-ground.  And in some homes watching an excess of television is significantly safer and healthier than a more dangerous alternative.

At only seven years old my daughter begged me to bring her to a museum exhibit dedicated to the fall of Pompeii.  When we finally saw the gallery, clearly intended for adults, she listened to the headphone guided tour more intently than she has ever listened to me.  When I asked what first intrigued her about Pompeii, she said it was an episode of The Magic School Bus.

I've come to accept that the right programming can open corridors in my daughter's brain that I'd never have thought to travel with her.

4) Don't let your child know if you are on a diet.

I get it.  As a woman who has struggled with body image issues, I want very much to teach my daughters to rock incredible self-esteem while confidently living healthy and fulfilling lives.  Part of that lesson, without a doubt, is about assuming responsibility for your own body.

My kids eat McDonald's, love cherry Slurpees and can kill a sleeve of Oreos faster than you can read this article.  I don't prohibit nor do I even frown upon letting them eat (almost) whatever they want, as long as some kind of balance is struck.  That said, I want to be honest about how such habits can impact their bodies in the long term.  So if we go on vacation and I indulge with reckless abandon, I don't mind them knowing that I have to deal with those consequences.

How can letting my daughters see me commit to eating healthier meals, drinking more water and exercising more routinely for a few weeks in the hope of achieving a healthy goal be a bad thing?

5) Don't say "hurry up".

Experts believe repeatedly telling a child to "hurry up" raises their stress level and flusters them (potentially creating further delays) while "let's hurry" sends the message that you and your child are on the same team.

Here's the deal.  My daughter and I are on vastly different teams.  I am the Yankees to her Red Sox.  We may be in the same league, but she will do whatever she needs to win one over on me and I will do the same to her.

Getting out the door on time isn't about bonding.  It is about time management and responsibility, two things I hardly expect her to have mastered before the second grade.  In fact, I've hardly mastered those things myself.  So I let getting to places in a timely fashion be all about the task at hand and save the team playing for when it matters most.

6) Don't give financial rewards.

Using financial rewards for my 7.5 year old has proven incredibly beneficial.  She receives a whopping two dollars for a perfect spelling test or one dollar if she gets only one word wrong.  She also receives one dollar if she is awarded "Student of the Day" in her karate class.

Is her motivation for studying more about earning a buck toward an expensive Lego set than it is about furthering her education?  Absolutely.  But she masters her spelling words and gains a lot more from her karate class than she would otherwise.

7) Don't kiss on the lips.

Experts say kissing a child on the lips can "confuse" them.  I firmly believe that any child who grows up in a sexually healthy home understands the difference between a kiss from a lover and a kiss from a loved one.  Of course if my daughter ever seems "confused", startled or embarrassed by my quick peck on her lips, I'll stop.  But until then, we both pucker up!

While I assume you'll go nit-picking over these opinions for something to complain about (because that's what we do these days) keep in mind that there are exceptions to every rule.  I don't support crash diets nor would I let my child diet unless it were medically necessary.  I don't allow television marathons and I don't chat with my daughter like I would an old friend while consuming exactly 1.5 glasses of red wine over a healthy dinner.

I do, however, live by my own set of rules (or at least one mutually agreed upon between myself and my husband) and think you should do the same.  But, I promise not to make that a rule.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Most Beautiful Lesson You'll Learn About Today's Ugly Society May Come From My 7yo

Call it a race war, class war, social war or just a war launched against anyone with a look or belief system different than your own.  No matter the nomenclature, it is impossible for any American to deny the terrifying state of our broken society.

I remember learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in elementary school.  I remember how the images I saw of water fountains assigned to only whites confused me as the water fountains in our school were for anyone that was thirsty.

Years later, after more in depth lessons taught me not only of segregation but of the numerous souls killed merely for the color of their skin, I was so thankful that my own children would be born into a colorblind world.  I too believed in Dr. King’s dream, and considered it a dream fulfilled.  Until recently.

Earlier this month I listened to an interview with a city official presiding not far from where the Sandra Bland incident took place.  How shocked I was to learn many funeral homes in that community are still segregated.  The idea that a business intended to respectfully and compassionately deal with death could turn a body (and soul) away based upon the color of it's skin made my stomach turn.

Instantly, I thought of my two children.

As the daughters of a woman obsessed with pop culture, I wondered how (or even if) my girls comprehend the constant news and water-cooler talk around them.  Between our home televisions, car stereos, multiple tablets, cell phones and even those little monitors now popping up on gas station pumps, the news is impossible to escape.  Then while driving through Los Angeles my eldest, age 7, had the most fascinating response to an Ant-Man billboard.  “It’s time for a superhero that turns from a man into a woman”, she said.

There is certainly a chance that her timing was merely coincidence, that the media’s saturation of yet another timely news story like Caitlyn Jenner’s had nothing to do with her statement.  But I so wanted to believe otherwise.

Last week while on family vacation we visited a New England splash pad packed with young kids looking to beat the heat, one of which was in a wheelchair.  Of the many potential playmates in the park that day, the same 7 year old who’d reacted so profoundly to the Ant-Man billboard chose to play almost exclusively with the girl in the wheelchair.

Credit: Karri-Leigh Mastrangelo
As the park radiated with laughter and cheer, much of which came from this duo, it was clear my daughter chose her new friend not because she felt badly for her, but because she was fun.  I saw a big difference between the two girls.  My daughter did not.

Somehow, this vision brought my scattered feelings about today’s world full circle.

Instead of crying over the resurgence of discrimination in our country, I am choosing to focus on (and hopefully spread) the just-as-present resurgence of acceptance and compassion.

It may be na├»ve for me to believe that for every person spreading hate in our world, there is another spreading love.  But, my young daughter gives me that hope.

For if my soon-to-be second grader has learned to look right through a person’s exterior, be it colored, disfigured or noticeably different in any of the millions of ways possible, to see straight to their soul- you can too.

Just maybe, by my sharing her story, she’s helped to teach you how.