Less Is More, More Is More

We bounded from the car with a skip in our step, coats left behind, giddy to bask in the sunshine of a 40 degree day in a winter full of single digit cold. My hand fell out to my side, waiting for her to reciprocate, and it hung there grasping at the air.

It’s a reflex I’ve grown accustomed to like tucking a strand of hair behind my ear when it’s already pulled back or wiggling my nose to adjust glasses I’m no longer wearing. More and more often my hand reaches out and there’s no hand there to meet it, a reminder of the changing needs of my daughters.

While their hands are too busy holding books or toys or finding comfort in pockets or slicing the air as they confidently stride through childhood, I’m still recovering from other reflexes not soon forgotten. Days when I not only reached out for their hands but slouched over just enough to meet them where they needed me, walking beside them like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Or the one that had me bending at the knees a hundred times a day to hoist them into my arms onto my hip. Where did those days go? These when-was-the-last-time-?, will-they-ever-again-? moments always sneak up on me. This long, winding, changing road of motherhood makes me and breaks me every day.

The girls are 4 and 6 now. They need me less in some ways and more in other ways I couldn’t have predicted. Their bodies are strong and capable; their will as stubborn and determined as ever. They need more of my silent presence, more of my restraint to comment or help or solve, more of the intangibles of life we all seek to feel embraced, guided, and supported by.

Early motherhood is a tremendously physical journey. Feeding, cradling, nursing, lifting, swaying, swinging, bouncing, forehead feeling, buckling, unbuckling. wiping, bathing, brushing, shushing, chasing.

Then suddenly, without much warning, the balance of motherly duties shifts from your body to your heart. Less work on the outside, more on the inside. The needing less and needing more, it’s all more to me. It demands more of me to dig deeper within, to give more, to stand back more, to be present more, to trust more, to witness more.

The funny thing is while their needs for me have changed, my need for them is as fierce and primal as the day they were born. From the very beginning until forever, I need them, want them and for them in the simplest, purest way one human can love another. 

up out away.jpg

A Letter To My Daughters On Feeling Entitled

Girls,

It took me almost 3 decades to realize I suffer from the good girl syndrome. It afflicts me with requiring permission to pursue the things I truly want. Permission from anyone and no one in particular. I was taught the world was mine for the taking but I had to be polite about it. I’ll be damned if I pass that on to you.

I want you to feel entitled.

I want you to feel entitled to every opportunity you’re willing to work hard for. I want you to know nothing is beyond or above or out of your reach. I want you to know nothing about you, inside or out, hinders your ability to try your best. Nothing about you makes you less worthy of the “American Dream” or whatever dream guides you.

I want you to know you are entitled to all the bounties of this existence.

I want you to feel entitled to things big and small. Entitled to follow your gut, your instincts, your hunches without explanation. Entitled to have spectacular years and years that get you to the next spectacular year. Entitled to like people and love people and ignore people and cut people off who don’t deserve you.

I want you to feel entitled to be happy. Entitled to be fulfilled and satisfied and still hungry for more. I want you to know your desires deserve exploration regardless if the road ends in triumph or defeat.

I want you to know your first breath was the ultimate, and only, green light for pursuing the life you want. And more than anything, I want you to be entitled to be you, wholly and truly, absolutely nothing less than all of you.

And I’ll be here living my own journey alongside yours, you inspiring me to kick permission to the curb and me inspiring you to live out loud right this second.

Love,

Mami

One Question To Nurture Self-Love In Our Daughters

I’m on a mission to raise daughters with a deep sense of self, a profound love and respect for themselves. I start with myself. I watch the words I use to talk about myself. I make sure they witness me in pursuit of my desires. I care for myself as much as I care for them. I focus on our family culture. There are shows and toys and products not allowed in our home because they don’t promote the kind of self-worth any woman should aspire to have. We pick books and films with strong female characters. We have firm family rules -speak, touch and act in kindness towards everyone including yourself. And more recently, I’ve started very directly addressing the issue of self-love with my girls. It happens at bedtime.

Bedtime is sacred in our house. It’s a sequence of carefully orchestrated rituals that lull my girls to dreamland. There are some standard components which have stood the test of time from their early baby days to now – always a story, always the same sweet whisper in their ear, the addition of a song comes and goes with the seasons (late summer nights, not so much…early winter nights, yes, please), massages are a favorite, a candle always adds to the magic. Dearest to me, though, is the time we spend before bed, talking.

Every night, my girls and I talk about what we’re grateful for and what good we’ve done for others that day. It’s a practice which leaves us all a bit warm and fuzzy inside. I love knowing they’ll be lying their heads to sleep with thoughts of how blessed and kind they are. I also believe our ritual allows them to learn to reflect and see the goodness in every day and in themselves.

On more than one occasion, my daughters have given thanks for themselves. Which made me realize bedtime questions are a powerful way to encourage the values I want them to embrace, especially self-love. With this in mind, I added a new question to the mix –

What do you love about yourself?

We’ve been doing this for about a month now and the answers are always a sweet surprise. My daughters love their artistic ability, their loose teeth, their dance moves, their singing voices, their assertiveness, their contribution to making our family great, the silly song they made up, their imaginations, their reading ability, their love for math. And when they seem to be stuck, I lead by example. I love my curiosity, my arms that allow me to hold my girls, my ability to write with passion, my smile, my baking skills, my role in teaching my girls to read, my lips that get to kiss them.

raising confident daughters

Little by little, night by night, I want them to know there is never any shortage of things to love about themselves. I want this to not just be a value we talk about in theory. I want them to get in the habit of reminding themselves why they rock. I want that habit to turn into something like their breath which happens on autopilot. Mean girls and misogynist media and so many other outside forces are going to try and bring them down throughout their lives. I don’t want their own voices to ever add to that noise. So I work hard at showing them how to love themselves. I want to be sure they’re rooting for themselves as much as I am. 

How do you encourage your daughters (and sons) to love themselves?

Telling Kids About Divorce: More Than Words

About a month ago my husband and I decided to separate. It’s the hardest decision of my life and the most painful. I’ve had to watch my daughters’ delicate hearts suffer and I’ve been unable to give them any answer they can truly grasp or accept. Don’t get me wrong. Ninety-five percent of the time we go about our days as usual, brave faces on and smiling. But hovering just beneath the surface is a wound that still bleeds.

When we broke the news, both girls were initially unfazed to the naked eye. Their father and I prepared as best we could, scouring the Internet and library books for the best language to use and the positive angles to highlight about their imminent new normal.

Not your fault, we love you, not your fault, two of everything, not your fault, a lot will stay the same, not your fault, we love you, lots of special time with each of us, not your fault.

We shared with them all the “right” things to say. They nodded, asked what would happen to our brand new puppy, then went off to color. For a split second, I foolishly believed it would be that easy. Five minutes or so after they left the room, I went in to see if they had any questions. And then the floodgates gave way. For the next hour and a half I cradled my babies as they sobbed. Questions were lost in their breathless, teary mumbles. No words of comfort from me soothed them. Finally, I massaged my oldest daughter’s foot and pulled out a book to read.

As I rubbed her toes and read that book, I was struck by the power in that moment. Would she hate foot rubs for the rest of her life because she would associate them with heartbreak? Or would they be a way to calm her as it did at that moment? Would she cry every time she read the particular children’s book we were reading through tears? Those tiny actions seemed to have more impact, provide more comfort than any of the words I had used minutes before.

While we said all the right things, that’s precisely where we went wrong. Words failed us. Sure they gave a name to what was happening but the warm fuzzy of “not your fault, we love you” fell on deaf ears once we ripped their security blanket out from under them. More than words they needed to be shown they were still safe, loved, and part of a family.

In the days after, I held onto the power of those tiny gestures that comforted them. I observed. I listened. I realized how much more we could have done. We did our best and I’m proud of how we handled it but given the opportunity to do it again, I’d add a few kind gestures to show them what our words could not.

I’m no expert, far, far from it. Like the woman who kindly apologized at the news of my separation and then again for not knowing the right words, I’m navigating this territory for the first time. I have no idea what words I’m supposed to be using. But I’m no stranger to kindness, to rituals, to actions that comfort. Here are a few things I wish I had thought of before sitting down with our daughters. Some I have implemented, others are in the works. None are of my devising; they’re completely inspired by my daughters’ needs and what they’ve shown me their hearts need right now to heal.

Photo Album
After lunch on the day we broke the news to our daughters, my oldest found a photo of her father holding her as an infant. She carried it around the entire day and the next. It was a reminder of happier times. My youngest, being second born and all, could find no pictures lying around the house of her infant days. I took an hour to find any and all pictures I could of us as a family and of each of them alone with myself and their father. I sent them to be printed and within the hour we were holding 100 pictures in our hands. My daughters have looked at those pictures everyday since. They have a stack of favorites. Some are tucked under their pillows. It’s on our agenda to get a small photo album for on the go comfort. What’s happening now shouldn’t diminish the importance of their past.

Family Meal
One day my ex had to give us a ride and suggested we go out to breakfast as a family beforehand. The idea had never occurred to me but as soon as I mentioned it, my daughters lit up. It was a wonderful reminder that we’re still a family. Some of you going through a separation might think it’s madness to go out to eat with your ex, but if it’s amicable, then I don’t see why not. We won’t be doing it all the time but it might become a special occasion habit. My girls are begging for a movie night so this ritual might take on different forms as long as we’re doing something together.

Photo Locket
My oldest is enamored with lockets. After putting together the photos for them, she’s been begging for a locket to put a photo of myself and her father. It’s officially on the to do list. It’ll keep us close to her heart.

Tell Stories
My youngest will sometimes get hit with a wave of sadness, missing her father and the way things were. I never tell her to stop crying or to think about how great things are now. I believe in being where you are so I try to honor her feelings by helping her remember what she misses. Sometimes I’ll tell a story about her younger self, other times I’ll ask her to tell me three things she really misses. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have a plan for when my girls find themselves having a tough moment. Storytelling heals.

A Phone Call Away
Just because one parent moves out doesn’t mean they can’t be a part of their child’s daily life. A friend of mine is currently separated from her husband and they have a schedule that flip-flops who has the kids on certain nights. On her off nights, she loves to Facetime with her kids to say goodnight. It’s being there without being there.

Memory Box
Inspired by my daughters desire to keep happy memories close at hand, I’d like to create for them a memory box with more than just photos but tokens of special days or events. I have tickets from a trip to The Nutcracker, a program from another show, a trinket from Disney on Ice, movie ticket stubs from the many movies we’ve gone to see. It’s something they’ll hopefully turn to when their hearts need it. It will also be something to add to as we create new memories in our new family structure.

In hindsight, I wish I had come to the table with all of these in my arsenal when we broke the news. Really, though, I needed to see through my daughters’ eyes how significant these tiny salutes to our family are. We don’t get a do over. But we can move forward knowing we need more than words to make it through tough times. In everything, words are never enough.

Stepping Up To The Plate

“Mom, why are there so many people in New Jersey who speak Spanish? Why do so many of them have black hair or white hair?”

My 6 year old asks this after an exhausting 4.5 hour drive in torrential downpours. I have a mild headache. I have to pee. My youngest won’t stop asking if we’re there yet. I need food and a nap. My parents, who we’re visiting, are asking a hundred and one questions when all I’m trying to tell them is I’m almost there.

A few minutes later, having moved only a few feet in traffic, she ponders out loud, “Why do some people have dots on their heads?”

Nothing has changed from moments before but my mom radar alerts me this is one of those moments when I need to step up to the plate. While I’m experiencing frustration and exhaustion, my daughter’s having a moment full of wonder and curiosity. Her questions require me to set aside my own needs and focus on acknowledging and nurturing her hunger to understand the world around her.

I tackle the first question. I explain how many people have immigrated here from other countries, some of those being Spanish speaking. I define what it means to immigrate. I ask her to tell me why someone might choose New Jersey or any place for that matter . We brainstorm answers – family, work, dreams, opportunity, just because. I explain how communities form, like drawn to like, feels like home.

She reminds me, “And the dots on the head?”

I begin to dig a hole bigger than I can climb out of. My initial response, “Many people wear them because it’s meaningful in their religion.” Which turns into, “What’s religion?”

Religion, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christmas, Jesus, death, reincarnation, heaven, God, good people, kindness – I hear these words shooting out of my mouth and confuse myself as much as I do her. The voices in my throbbing head issue reminders about raising daughters who embrace and advocate for all the world’s people. My common sense nags me to be careful not to incorrectly describe the tenants of each religion. My memory is thumbing through the files of my freshman religions of the world notes. I’m getting caught up in my head and the question and my answer are getting a bit blurry.

I stop talking. I breathe and think of the best analogy. I tell her religion helps people see the world in a unique way. Religion is like binoculars that let you see in specific colors. Red binoculars let you see in red. Blue ones, in blue, etc. Even though they each look at the same thing the view is different. And while each is different, they’re all rooted in inspiring people to do good in the world. Completely oversimplified but my daughter is satisfied for the moment.

We agree to Google more later and make a trip to the library. I may not have nailed any nails on the head with my answers but I gave her food for thought. I reminded her I will always listen to her and do my best to help her figure out the answers. I will always be her ally in making sense of this world. 

Her inquisitiveness reminded me of my daughters’ deep inner life. The inner life my little women, and all children, are constantly cultivating while riding in the back seat, holding my hand walking down the street, staring into space when I’m rushing to check off my to do list. Every seemingly mundane detail in a day is up for grabs for my young curators. And I am guilty of sometimes forgetting to pause and slow down to honor my daughters’ very important work of discovering. It’s easy to let the important questions slip through the cracks when they fall so easily disguised with the other whiny questions of the day. 

As a child myself, I remember more clearly than I recall what I ate yesterday, the swirling and sweeping intensity of my own inner world taking shape. Light bulb moments, frantic curiosity, all consuming fascination, bursting emotions, a world within a world. In those moments, I recall reaching out to the grown-ups in my life and being most often met with a friendly, unintentional brush off or a half listening reply. Sure there were also plenty of times my  grown-ups took the time to answer me in earnest but those other moments held a valuable lesson as well. It was those interactions that solidified for me the huge divide between children and adults. I could see and they could not. And here I am, working hard everyday for vision that once came so easily. 

Now as a mom I see each of my daughters piecing together their own world within a world. I want nothing more than for my girls to have a rich inner life from which to draw self-knowledge, self-love and that unshakeable thirst for life that makes the journey always so fascinating and worthwhile. So they’re questioning and probing and silence, all of it, is a gift to me, reassurance, comfort.

So, when a question has a different tone or when their eyes more than their voices ask the question or the silence or stare into space weighs heavier than usual, I step up to the plate. Despite my grumpy mood or explosive migraine or agenda for the day, their wonder trumps all. It doesn’t mean I’m Fred Rogers with each and every single one of their questions. I am human after all. But when the wind changes direction, I try damn hard to notice. I step up to the plate with the best I’ve got. And more than just a Q & A tennis match, I give them my inner life. I let them witness self-care. I verbalize (age appropriately) the things with which I struggle. I verbalize the things that make my spirit soar. I draw attention to the intangible riches in life, how to find them, share them, celebrate them. I pour into them words to fill them up, to set their souls a flight.

And as time goes on, I hope they’ll find in me a kindred spirit. Find someone to sit and ponder life with, ask the big questions with, sit in silence with, celebrate life with. Heck, in building an inner life and in all things, I hope they find in me someone who knew them once and still, who nurtured them and their wonder and, who after all this time, will always be willing to.

inner life of children

So much of parenthood is a surprise that shouldn’t be surprise, a reminder of our own journey. I’d almost forgotten about those backseat meaning of life questions I used to ask. But they remind me and I’m grateful for that. I’d love to know two things – First, do you remember your own inner life taking shape? And then, how do you nurture your own child’s inner life?