Let It Go

A few years ago, somewhere around one of my more significant birthdays number-wise, I was feeling angst over something a friend said or did. Another dear friend, Lisa, turned to me and said something along the lines of being in the second half now, and no longer having to endure anyone or anything that brings negativity into our lives. At first this sat with me like a weight upon my chest; initially, because I disliked the way her reference to the second half of life sounded, but also because I am not one to part with friends easily. I have mastered the idea of forgiving, but never forgetting; which, I suppose, really means never truly absolving anyone, including myself, of whatever the supposed wrongful act was. Yet, here I am a few years later and at any sign of trouble, I am reminded of Lisa’s brilliant adage, as I mull over my options as to the best way to handle what potentially can cause me a sleepless night or two. Letting go is not always easy.

Letting go of friends that through a newer and brighter light appear to not be the comrades I envisioned previously or the worry that runs like trailers for an upcoming horror film is downright difficult. I often find myself spending too much time repeating the yoga instructor’s instructions to let go of what no longer serves us and wonder exactly how she intends for us to do that. If only I could learn to let go the way I learned to cook or write, by watching others do it. If only it were as simple as letting those exhales come out your mouth. Of course, this does not mean I don’t try. I attempt to let go multiple times each and every day of anything that is not, per say, serving me. Whether it be my confusion over the way a recent text message was punctuated; wondering the meaning behind it or the rude check out girl at the grocery store I continue to smile at while pondering what made her so unhappy or the bigger things; like tomorrow my sister will undergo her fifth chemotherapy treatment and I wish there was something more I could do to make this easier for her or one of the countless worries a mother has no matter how old her children are. Some of this, I know, comes from my constant battle with control and wanting to see everyone I love happy; regardless of the logical side, that tells me that it is impossible to control anyone else’s happiness other than my own. You see, reasoning aside, I still find myself on the constant hunt for the ability to let go. I am, however, getting better at it; the dark circles under my eyes inherited, not a sign of anguished nights.

This morning I read about gong meditation. Yesterday I discovered salt therapy. Last week I talked in depth with a friend who regularly practices Transcendental meditation. I have downloaded Headspace to my iPhone. I’ve learned a new meaning to words like acceptance and intention.  I have lavender scented candles, room sprays, and hand creams. And, of course, I frequently take long walks and attend yoga classes, where, even on my least flexible days leave feeling a sense of gratitude for coming to the mat, as they say. Yoga undoubtedly stimulates and even encourages a sense of calm that feels pretty great. I have not quite mastered, but am definitely better at, talking myself out of a full-blown anxiety attack. I still listen to friends and family with a whole heart and genuinely hope I can be the ear they need and feel for them appropriately. I rely on Ujjayi breathing when necessary, and sometimes believe I am harboring a secret when I feel it working on a crowded subway or waiting for my flu shot. The truth is though, none of this needs to be clandestine. Actually, it should be shouted from the rooftops, added to the water, and taught to toddlers so they can use this skill for a lifetime. We, humans, I mean, should all know how to let go of whatever it is that doesn’t serve us and practice it daily. Can you envision a world free of fear, worry, and anger?  “Worry,” I recently read, “does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

As I continue on my journey to live in a world free of the stuff that doesn’t serve me; I hope to cross paths with many indulging on a similar course. I may be in that second half, but I am resigned to the fact that that is just fine, because it is my objective to make it the more peaceful half. Here’s to the courage and strength to let go of those things that do not serve us.


Motherhood: The Lifelong Dance

On the way to my son’s bar mitzvah he quietly announced that if I didn’t cry during the parent’s prayer he would know I loved his older sister more (since I cried during hers). I thought this was hysterical; mostly because I had no idea he was so aware. Generally my son is a master at keeping his emotions in check and it was precisely then that I realized that he was, in fact, mindful of others’ feelings. Sensitivity comes in a variety of configurations.

As I geared up to say good-bye to child three last week, after spending the day setting up her dorm room for her freshman year of college, I was reminded of this and thought I wonder how much I have to cry to prove my unvarying love amongst my children. What if I had learned since dropping the first one off at school that life does go on and that knowing my kids are happily where they should be is enough to ease the ache in my heart; therefore curbing the waterworks upon departure? What if I was looking forward to a little down time with my husband or ready to put my career back in the driver’s seat once again? Does any of this or a limited amount of tears mean that I am not sad about exiting this stage of my life; the twenty-five year period that has been an all-consuming, roller-coaster complete with the delight, excitement, dips, giggles and thrills that go along with it?

Surely motherhood is a lifelong dance from the slow pace in the early stages when we are just getting our footing down; to the rock and roll that gets us through homework, after school activities, jobs, meals, laundry and bedtimes stories; to the waltz when our kids begin to break away, but still need us to keep dancing (in the background, where no one else can see). The rhythm changes, but the music never stops. Then we bring them to college and the only dance move we crave at that point is the moonwalk which is our only chance of going backwards.

And here come the tears. I am not sure if there are more or less than when I dropped the other two off at college. This time in our lives is a myriad of emotion. The waltz continues, but there are many other moves out there to try. I still miss my third and final and wish she could have stayed home a little longer, but appreciate that this is the way it is supposed to go. It’s true; I am not as tearful as I thought I would be, but I am pretty sure that this time no one is measuring. Maybe I am older and wiser, but since when does intellect have anything to do with sentiment? More likely the shrewder I grow the less I worry about what others think, so as the saying goes, I’ll cry if I want to. Mostly though I believe it has to do with the music. I still hear it and the beat in this new stage of life is getting stronger with each passing day.


Crazy Sock Day

Tomorrow is the third and final round. Sounds conclusive, eh? In most ways I suppose it is. Like an irrevocable binding; an ending that can’t be rewritten, whatever happens tomorrow will happen no matter how much I wish we could go back. I stood in line at Target yesterday and listened to a six year old (I am assuming her age) hold up to two pairs of brightly colored socks and ask her mother about this oddity on the camp calendar call Crazy Sock Day. The blue eyed girl’s excitement was palpable and I considered for a moment telling the mother to put down her phone, unsure as to whether her enthusiasm over Sock Day equaled its deserved delight. Instead, I reluctantly kept my lump in my throat right where it belonged and daydreamed all the way through the checkout line about the many years I prepared my three kids for camp each summer.

The thing is, tomorrow my baby is not leaving for her last summer at camp, but instead she is heading off to college. Of course, this is where she is supposed to be going. It is all part of that path that we set them up to journey as toddlers and, if we are successful, they slowly break away from our guidance and keep on marching in the right direction. Yeah, yeah….I get all that. I want for her the autonomy that is at the basis of being a true adult. And I want her to have a strong education and achieve the multitude of goals she has rolled up her sleeve. I realize my job description changes, doesn’t disintegrate. The question is, why did it have to happen so fast?

About five minutes ago, or seven years, I cried my eyes out on the long ride from Florida State after dropping my first daughter off at college. I learned to manage my sadness over missing her mostly by concentrating on how happy she sounded as she navigated her new path in life. Well, that and regular Facetime visits to the dinner table so that the empty seat didn’t always stick out like a glaring reminder that one had flown the coop. I am not going to lie; I still stop just about everything to hear about her day as she walks from work to the subway each night. She lives in New York City and I managed to not only accept that, but encourage it, because I know it was what she wants.

Then three minutes, or three years, later my son followed in his sister’s footsteps and became Nole. I can’t say this was an easier transition; I missed him just as much, but his exhilaration was so blatant and I was now experienced. Besides, I still had one more child at home to put all my energy into…poor girl. Somehow he graduated in a blink of an eye too and will soon be joining the work force also in New York City. I will deal with that next month frankly, because right now tomorrow is creeping up on me.

So, yes round three. And what have I learned? That life goes fast and we have to enjoy every minute. To put the phone down and watch the real thing. That one can truly draw from other people’s happiness; I believe that is one of the first rules of motherhood. That there are no do-overs, but we can learn from our mistakes as well as our successes. That my family has been my main job for the last twenty-five years and I will never apologize for that; regardless of whether I am feeling a little lost the day after tomorrow. And, of course, that there will never be enough Crazy Sock Days, so one should always be prepared to make her own.


Will the Real Movie Please Stand Up

Today Fifty Shades of Grey will come to a theater near you. And with its opening, comes the stirring of the coalescence that somehow caused the gray confusion that brought my Shades of Gray a rather bumpy, interesting and never-could-have-envisioned entrance into the literary world. While I may not rush to the movies this weekend, I will, at some point, check it out; in the same light that I felt compelled to read each of EL James’ books. Truth is, if everyone was going to be looking at me with raised eyebrows when they heard the title of my book, I needed to know what was behind it. Even James conveyed in an email to me how she got a kick out of the “confusion” that gave my Shades all kinds of press and got my neighborhood principal in trouble for leaving a copy of my book on his desk.

So, once again, I am not complaining about the eyebrow raising or that they cast Christian Grey very unlike what I imagined; I am however feeling a little testy that this Shades of Gray, the one that sends a message about equality, racialism and intolerance hasn’t been snatched up by some movie producer yet. While a little BDSM can make (and undoubtedly will) movie goers wriggle in their seats, wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world where people flocked to the theaters or book stores for stories that make them squirm in a whole different way? Yes, I agree, we need a little of each sort of agitation, if you will, in our lives. I believe it is called balance.

That being said, who do you think should play Olivia Dalton in the film version of Shades of Gray? I actually have a list: Emily Blunt (except I am not sure how the British accent will work in), Jennifer Love Hewitt, Julia Stiles, Kate Hudson or Kristen Bell. I am pretty flexible. What about Kie’s character? I’m thinking China Anne McClain or Amandla Stenberg. And while I am thinking big; I’m wondering if Jay Z and Alicia Keys would mind if the soundtrack for the film started with their amazing Empire State of Mind. They could even create all the music for the movie. I’d be more than cool with that. There could be a campaign advocating inter-racial relationships and adoption, peace and tolerance for all. Diana Eck, the Harvard scholar and recipient of the National Humanities Medal for her work on the Pluralism Project and Angelina Jolie (no introduction needed) could be the spokespersons who by chance refer to Shades of Gray – the movie, and grin meekly when people’s eyebrows rise, then redirect humankind down the path of real world issues that my movie, while entertaining, will contemplate. I’d even concede to a few hot, steamy kisses and the insinuation of more throughout the film, because I’m not so naïve to not realize that sex sells (and besides, I already told you I read Fifty Shades.) I think this could work. A good film, a real film, a noble cause and an opportunity to wear a stunning dress to its opening. Know any good screenwriters? Together I think we can make America wriggle for all the right reasons in one great movie, bound together with a.…neck tie? 


Stop Stomping on Good Teachers

A few of my good friends still teach. I am in awe of the stories they share about the trials and tribulations of their work; as well as the joys of their connections both academically and socially with their students. Unfortunately, though it is the tales that describe how little they actually get to make those connections these days that are keeping me out of the classroom. Perhaps I am a coward and would prefer to live off the memories of the life changing experiences I had teaching in the (real) ACE program in NYC too many years ago, when a supportive administration and the opportunity to be creative with my lessons in order to find the best ways to reach a classroom of varied students was not only permitted, but encouraged. I know that the government must only want what is best for our children, but I wonder desperately how their input of late is going to affect the future of our country as a whole. Ultimately, might I remind everyone, our children and their education are our future? Teachers cannot teach effectively with their hands tied or without love in their hearts. With each negative account I hear, the smaller these teachers’ hearts get; and I grow afraid for our future. Yet, I go into colleges and talk with prospective teachers about how teaching is the most noble job in the universe. “Never be afraid to convey your love for your students, because it will undoubtedly show up in your lessons and your students’ success,” I preach.

Yet, I wonder each time I hear another story from my teacher friends, how long those young teachers will maintain their enthusiasm. I am concerned that our seasoned teachers are longing to leave their profession – and not because of the kids, but rather the stringent new regulations that make teaching robotic, rather than responsive and heartfelt. I won’t stop encouraging new teachers to teach with their heart, nor will I stop hoping that my friends and others like them will hang in there a little longer; but mostly I pray that someone will see the light before we have driven the good that is left in our education system out. We should all open our minds to new methods, and stop stomping on those that already work. I realize I am not offering any solutions here; just a whole lot of hope and prayer. Care to join me or better yet, come up with an answer?


Through Your Eyes

Someone invited me to a lecture this morning. She said I would enjoy it, because I am smart. My yoga instructor told me I am doing very well, even though I spent the last fifteen minutes of class praying for no more down dogs. Ha! I thought, imagine if I saw myself through their eyes. Of course, I may not have pondered this had I not watched a few of those selfie videos that are part of the new Dove campaign for real beauty yesterday. They are sheer brilliance.
In one of the videos a sketch artist who could not see his subject, asked women to describe themselves. Then he drew a second portrait based on another person’s view of that same woman. The differences were astounding. Complete strangers’ views were far more positive and downright beautiful than one’s own. Why? Why should I have felt surprise when someone called me smart? Why don’t I give myself credit for the improvements I’ve made in yoga. I am getting better. And why should I hide when a camera comes out?
We really do need to redefine beauty; if not for our children, then for ourselves. I, for one, have to stop saying it is what is on the inside that counts, if I don’t live it. What is within does matter. Apparently, that inner beauty is what comes through in those selfies. That must be who others see. Here’s my latest selfie (with my daughter; the queen of the selfies)…. Pretty, huh?

Sarah and Mom

Sarah and Mom

Dove Real Beauty Sketches


Finding the Ultimate Happiness

You know that article entitled, How To Find the Ultimate Happiness, that exists in most magazines in one form or another? Whether we read the whole thing or not; isn’t there just a slight glimmer of hope that that article may contain the secret to the change in our lives to make everything just perfect? I began to read one of those articles today when I realized that I was literally turning to my morning tea and magazine ritual to complete my life. Is there really such thing as absolute perfection and if there is, are we willing to forgo the journey that took us there? It is on that expedition to the ultimate happiness that allows us to make our mistakes, indulge in a few blunders and prioritize what matters and what shouldn’t. We will forever be one, or more, steps from an unflawed life and that is actually a good thing. I now envision perfection as an alluring piece of chocolate cake that each time we prepare to dig our fork into, gets yanked just slightly out of reach. This is not an announcement that I am not happy. I have it pretty darn good as a matter of fact, but life does not come without problems; without a little tsuarus , as my people say. It is natural, I suppose, to hope for a little bit more. Does anyone ever pass on his or her wishing star? Can anyone truly believe that there is perfection in other people’s lives when we can never completely know what goes on behind closed doors? Perfect just doesn’t exist and maybe that, in itself, is what makes life’s lessons part of the precision of developing ultimate happiness. Yet, and finally, I have reached my big point: why have we become a generation of parents that try so hard to give our children what we think will provide them with the ultimate happiness? In doing so are we denying them opportunity to sincerely value what they have or could have?

All this got me thinking about the advice I dole out to my children with great optimism that if only they would listen to me, they will never have to suffer through snags I have already navigated. While it’s true that I wish I had done a better job teaching my kids to stick to a budget, let’s say; I wonder if a hungry weekend, as opposed to my lectures, may teach them to financially plan better between paydays. Or when they choose to ignore me when I tell them to check the weather before leaving without an umbrella, couldn’t walking home in the rain be the cure? As a mother (worrier in my case, as well) we tend to want to fix it all. I am as guilty of this as any other parent. Heck, it would be so much easier to find my children just the right spouses so we could all be happy, but then they would miss out on the heartbreaks and highs that new love brings. And as for that umbrella; sometimes a walk in the rain is just what we need. How could I take that away from them? If we give them everything right from the beginning, will they appreciate what they have later or just expect the gravy train to keep chugging? Won’t that create a generation of parent-reliant adults? How happy could those people be? Why would I wish perfect lives on my children and eliminate the courageous leaps that they have to take to find their way to nearly perfect.

This being said, I just cleaned up the kitchen, because “she had so much homework.” I am not naïve enough to believe that in an hour that homework will have somehow gotten finished much faster than she anticipated, but I am a mother with a swollen heart when it comes to my kids. I have got to toughen up; for their both our sakes. And as for the chocolate cake; I am actually pretty happy nibbling on the crumbs each tug leaves behind. Clearly perfect just doesn’t exist and maybe that, in itself, is what makes life’s lessons and the pursuit of happiness the real perfect.


I am a Flckering Candle

One of my favorite parts of having written Shades of Gray is that occasionally I get to visit colleges and talk with education majors. The classes are filled with young, enthusiastic almost-teachers. I see myself in many of them, particularly because I still see myself as young. This does not mean I have lost my passion for teaching, even having been out of the public schools for some time. My flame to bring a sense of zeal and ingenuity into the classroom has not died. That is why I meet with these college students and do my best to stir the pot of excitement over one of the most necessary and amazing jobs a person can do. My flickering fervor has, however, been doused with a few too many buckets of water over the years. I think of myself as one of those trick candles that continues to relight no matter how hard one blows.

Almost daily I speak with my sister, a seasoned teacher, and am saddened by the stories she shares. I often ask her how it is possible to keep inventiveness and innovation in one’s lessons when the administration seems to loom and paperwork is at the heart of teaching these days. Somehow, I am happy to say, I feel confident that my sister manages to maintain the one thing that we agree is the basis of good teaching – not being afraid to bring a little love into the classroom.

I understand that when something is broken it should be fixed and I will be the first to admit that our overall education system is pretty much near dilapidated. The thing is not all of it is bad. Why are we trying so hard to fix even the parts that still work? Can’t the bureaucrats that feel the need to revamp even the portions that don’t need repairing see that in their feeble attempt to reinvent the wheel, all they are doing is discouraging new and old teachers from bringing the energy and love that caused them to want to be teachers in the first place into their practice? Everyone is so busy creating checklists and tests that I wonder when they get to see the students as actual learners; as children – all with individual needs.

I read this as part of a recent NY Times article, “We need to return to a focus on the enrichment and creativity that make learning as well as teaching worthwhile.” As I slammed my fist hailing Dave Tomar’s insight I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad over the truths that back this statement. Is it not enough that we severely underpay teachers, yet expect them to educate our children? Can anyone truly stand up and say that our children are not our future; therefore their education shouldn’t matter? I thought not, so you may stay seated while I will reignite my fire and hope that we don’t lose out on the next few rounds of eager and caring teachers who may be willing to take a vow of poverty, but not necessarily the abuse that red tape seems to be creating in our schools today.


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Lean In to Happy

I had the great privilege of attending the kick-off of 26th Annual Jewish Book Festival the other evening. While I always enjoy showcasing Shades of Gray, the main speaker was Adele Sandberg, Sheryl Sandberg’s (Lean In) mother. At first, I admit, I questioned how much Sheryl’s mother could actually contribute to a discussion of her daughter’s book, but then I decided that behind every strong woman, a great mother is somewhat responsible. Granted, this may be my own ancillary pat of the back as I take distinct pride in my growing children daily or perhaps, because on days when I feel accomplished and fulfilled, I wonder what my mother would think. (Ironically, I felt the urge to write this today; the 33rd anniversary of my mother’s passing.)

Another admission, I relinquish on questionable terms, falls under the heading of what Lean In would have to do with a woman like me. Prior to Mrs. Sandberg’s talk; I hadn’t even read Lean In; assuming its audience was best suited for the business world. I stand corrected. Clearly, the book speaks of gender stereotypes, how woman need to take a stand globally and eradicate the term bossy from female description. “Don’t call your daughters’ bossy; say ‘my daughter has executive leadership skills,’ ” explained Mrs. Sandberg while talking about her own daughter and granddaughter. She then went on to talk about how we need to respect each other’s choices and stop having resentment or guilt. My ears perked. Does this mean that my choice to leave teaching and stay home with my young children is finally acceptable even in the eyes of women who seem to be able to do it all; achieve success in the workplace and have a family?

I enjoyed listening to Sheryl’s brilliant mother from beginning to end. I immediately bought a copy of Lean In for myself and plan to give one to every young woman I know. My recent desire to re-enter the workforce is officially reinvigorated. My favorite question of the evening though centered around Adele and Sheryl’s mother-daughter relationship, because as I said; I believe a good parent is at the base of every successful child. Mrs. Sandberg shared a story from when Sheryl and her siblings were as young as five, seven and nine, when she mounted an article on the refrigerator about how to raise happy children. The article, amongst other things, claimed that we should never do for our children what they are capable of doing for themselves. That day she ceased getting her children ready for school in the morning and they began their journeys to independence. This, she explained to her youngsters, was being done, because she wanted them to be happy. Incredible! Isn’t that all we ever want for our children? I suddenly felt as though I missed the boat. For years I had been telling myself that among other chores, the elaborate breakfasts I make each morning before school is because I enjoy doing it. Do I? I examined my reasons and found myself rationalizing. The thrill for me definitely stemmed from the satisfaction of knowing they have had at least one nourishing meal in what could be a rushed and harried day. Then it occurred to me that perhaps it was more due to my own issues regarding not having a well mother to do for me all those years. I unintentionally provid my children with what I thought I missed. And there you have it; my mother, even with deteriorating health, managed to be a great mom. I wonder if she read the same article as Adele. I wonder if she ever defined me as bossy. I think not. Today, I can feel her leaning in.


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