Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Last Word

2008, as far as years ago, was a pretty shitty one.

I lost my mother rather swiftly and unsuspectingly and I was behind the wheel of our car with my husband and 10 month old son when we were in a near fatal crash on the highway. Everything felt catastrophic and awful.

That New Year’s Eve, I huddled inside my home with my still new little family. We had a few candles lit, and just about two minutes before midnight I said something to the effect of, “Fuck this. I’m done with you 2008.”

Because there was 90 seconds left in the year, it seemed we were past most of the garbage. At 11:59, I bent over to blow out the candles. And at 11:59 and 30 seconds, with about 30 seconds left of 2008, a strand of my hair slipped forward, fell into a candle, and caught on fire.

And here is what I learned.

1.     Candles can be dangerous. Safety first.
2.     It ain’t over till it’s over.
3.     Bad stuff can happen at any time to anyone. It doesn’t come in threes and you don’t get a pass because you’ve already had a taste of bad stuff. Some of us get more of it than others, and mostly because if you read the fine print when you were born none of any of this came with a fairness clause or guarantee.

I spent an unfortunate amount of time in 2009 trying to make sense of 2008. To understand it, to right the wrongs, to justify some of the nonsense, to exact revenge. None of it, not one shred of it made anything about that shit year any better. You would think that when you get dumped on quite a bit, it sort of gives you some sort of karmic pass for the near future. But it didn’t then and it never does. 2009 brought some more insanely craptastic moments. It also brought some amazing ones. And so this is what I learned then, and I guess this is what I’m remembering now. It’s always all of it. It’s always some good or a lot bad and some sort of combination of random chance and stuff that’s within our control that makes up our days.

The other night was just one of those nights. You know the kind. We’ve reached that point in winter vacation when the common theme is not school break or winter but discord and the children are united in their purpose to start and end each day with the goal of destroying each other’s lives and my humanity. On this particular night, we managed to fight about the Hanukkah candles. Even though there are four menorahs and three children still, there was reason to fight. Later when the house was still awash in the bitter tears of Hanukkah night 5, I angrily peeled out of the driveway with the unknown goal of accomplishing some made up task that really just gave me an excuse to get out. To get away.

And as I sat in the driveway and looked at my family from the outside in, all of it seemed actually quite beautiful. It always is this way really, when you step back (and dear God when you can’t hear them). When you can just see bright shimmering candles glowing in the windows, and still joyful feet running around in a living room decorated mostly by torn wrapping paper and Thomas the train. And this is what today is I suppose. Today is the day where we stand on the outside and look in. Look in at ourselves, our families, and our year. Today amidst all of the noise of 2016, I urge you to look back and find the beauty. I promise you that somehow, even in the darkest parts of it, it was there.

This year, among the many celebrity deaths we lost Leonard Cohen, acclaimed singer, poet and songwriter. One of my most favorite quotes of all time was written by Cohen, when he said: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” And so on this last night of 2016, of Hanukkah, of a year full of twists and glass ceilings that almost cracked and plenty of hearts that did, I wish you the chance to let all of it go. Make space to look for the good and be the good.


It’s a new year. Let’s be the light that gets in. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Most Important Part of Following Your Dreams

How do you follow your dreams?

More importantly, why do you follow them?

Come join me over at Today Parents where I'm taking about the new movie Sing, in theaters December 21st, and my quest to not just chase my dreams, but rather live them.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Seasons

I’m sitting in the middle of the coffee shop, hyper aware of everything. Of the clicking of the laptop to my right, of the flipping of the newspaper of the old man to my left, the scooping of the ice and the chatter of some old friends in the corner. I feel the weight of my fit bit on my arm, the fluttering of one hair to the left of my cornea. Everything feels on, and crackling. Sometimes I feel that way. Sometimes life feels that way – like sensory overload. Very loud, or very soft but either way – very obvious. Just very.

I’ve been feeling this very much with my kids – this crackling, the relative loud and softness of my love for them, the way it gets expressed, the way it feels. It is all sort of out body – I am living these moments with them, and observing them as well. The rapid speed at which they seem to be growing up and changing. The full body experience of my love adapting to their newer, bigger selves.

This morning Ruby tells me that she can see the sun coming out. Of course she is referring to her runny egg, and it proves to be a bit of a time machine moment. It is exactly what my mother and I would always say to each other when we would break into our sunny side up egg. The way the sticky yellow thick fluid would ooze and run across the page, like rays of sun breaking out through breakfast. Late at night, sometimes I curl up with Dylan in his bed and sit next to him while he reads. Often without thinking about it, he will very carefully reach up and grab a piece of my hair and twirl it between my fingers. It reminds me of the way I would grab the fringes of my father’s tallis, the security of having him beside me each year on the high holidays. It reminds me of the way Hope holds her elephant, made with that silky soft trim that my own baby blanket was made with years ago. I watch her clutch her soft toy. I understand completely. I am struck by how history seems to repeat itself, like a thin thread that connects my past with their future.

There is an inherent narcissism built into parenthood. We look into these faces and bodies and see glimpses of ourselves. The shape of our eyes, the curl of our hair. There is something familiar about them, right from the beginning. But by holding on to this piece of them that reminds us of ourselves, are we trying to hold on to our own childhood, or theirs? I read something recently where the author talked about how modern parents have conflated their own success with their children’s achievements when in fact success should be gauged by their relative independence. I wonder if this desire to tie my children to my past is some covert way to keep them tied to me, to prevent them from carving out their own history. I wonder if I am complicit in this modern conspiracy. Should I be looking for signs of my own childhood in theirs, or encouraging them to go out and make their own destiny?

Lately Hope will only nap if I take her for a drive in the car so I’ve been logging way more miles than usual. It is an odd kind of blessing, because I have an opportunity to bear witness all of fall’s glory up close, something I would have perhaps taken for granted otherwise in my daily shuttling to and from life’s business. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – everything about fall is just designed to break your heart. The colors just bursting from the trees and dotting the sky – the sharp reds and muted yellows and oranges. It is literally breathtaking. The part that really takes your breath away though is knowing you can’t hold it. You can’t keep it. You know that soon everything will be gone and bare and you will be thrust into the next season, ready or not. My mind is turning this over, dangerously distracted, when I realize how quickly I am approaching the car in front of me. I quickly slam on the brakes, snapping myself out of my daydreaming reverie. Sometimes it is long and winding and beautiful, but then sharpness, reality.

Yesterday, my oldest lost two teeth. Last week, the littlest gave up her much loved binkie. I catch an old picture of the middle girl from one year ago and am so struck by how much longer her hair and legs are. Whether I am ready or not, they are growing up and away from me.


I am thinking about all of this as I sit here alone with all three in school. It’s a modern phenomenon, being alone for any stretch of time. I can’t decide if it is awesome and liberating or slightly sad. I suspect like most moments in life, it is tinged with a bit of both. I look down at my toes and realize there are more leaves on the ground now then on the trees. It strikes me that winter’s solitude won’t be far off now. My head fights my heart to let go of the current season, and move forward. It’s best for all of us. 


Monday, November 7, 2016

Dear Kids, This Is Why #imwithher

I've got election night jitters on the brain tonight. Sharing my thoughts on who I'm voting for and why. Make your voice heard!

#imwithher

Friday, October 21, 2016

Want to be a Digital Mentor For Your Kids? Step 1: Admit You Know Nothing

I’m scanning through my Facebook newsfeed during a 25 minute long episode of Dora in the City when the new AAP recommendations on screen time catch my eye. The guidelines include revised screen time recommendations for children ages 6 and up, from two hours a day to no official screen time limit. Rather, the panel recommends prioritizing homework, physical activity, extracurricular activities, family meal times, and after all that whatever is left can be dedicated to screen time. It makes an important distinction between media for educational use versus entertainment, and encourages families to seek and find their own balance with technology. Parents, it recommends, are to assume the role as “media mentor.” Toward this end, the panel made an additional recommendation specifically geared toward parents and their own technology use, reminding us to put down devices during meal time and parent child playtimes.


The recommendations came out at the right time, as I had been turning over David Ryan Polgar's recent opinion piece in my head. In it, he asks – where are the parents? How have we virtually all but disappeared from the digital debate on kids and technology? How do we change this? How do we assume the role we need to, the one that panels of pediatricians and technology developers and child psychologists and everyone smart tells us we need to – how do we become media mentors for our children? Or more importantly, why aren’t we already?


We already mentor our kids every day in lots of ways. We mentor them through the uncomfortable recess when there was no one to play with. We guide them through a broken heart and a skinned knee. We teach them how to read and throw a ball and slide feet fist into the base. We teach them how to share the trains at the train table, and apply for a job. We mentor them through experiences and challenges we’ve already faced. So why, here, do we need other people to drive this particular conversation with our children? Why is it so much harder to be a media mentor?


Because we’ve never done it before.


You know the expression about dog years? In media and technology years, on average I’d assume most modern day parents are the equivalent of an 8 or 9 year old. So really, what we’re saying is, why aren’t there more 9 year olds driving this conversation, guiding their children through the process of how and when and why to use technology in a way that is safe and fun and creative?


Because we are still learning. Also, because we don’t know how. And because we don’t even know what we don’t know.


We are reacting and learning and living each iteration of these gadgets in real time. We are so busy trying to keep up with our kids’ activities and get to soccer practice and go over the spelling words and check on the elderly parent and schedule the breast exam and pay the mortgage and we’re just drowning. It feels like we are just gasping for air. And so we go online and tweet and post and snapchat and Instagram our way through it. We need each other. We need an outlet. All of this makes sense.

But we never really learned how to use it. Any of it. Our parents never taught us because smartphones came of age long after they were the target audience for most of this stuff. So we were left to figure it out at the same time as we were trying to figure out how to raise the kids and navigate adulthood. We tried to figure it out well past the point where we were actively learning or internalizing new stuff. There was no one there talking to us about the dangers of internet addiction or what it means to leave on online footprint or even tech etiquette. There was no one reminding us to guard things like patience and boredom like precious jewels. We figured it out as we went along which generally speaking was good enough. At least it was before we had children.

If we had the capacity and the knowledge, I suspect the very first thing we would need to teach our children as their media mentors is boundaries. Specifically, we need to teach them how to self-regulate: how to plug their phone in downstairs before bedtime, how to not check it at night, or how to not post weird things online at 3AM. We need to teach them that there are moments in a day where it might not make sense to use a phone, perhaps like an interactive mommy and me class. Or the dinner table. Or when driving. But as I take in nearly every space that I am in lately, I am so struck by how consumed grown-ups are with their gadgets. I am struck by how limited our capacity feels to do just that: to self-regulate. And if we can’t start from sort of fundamental notion of when it makes sense to use technology, I’m not sure we can even begin to delve into any deeper level conversation with our children and other stakeholders about how to create a safe and thoughtful digital community.

The other day I was at story time at the library with my 2 year old. There were six adults in the room with six children. The children were all happily engaging with each other and playing with the toys. Four of the adults were on the phones. I and the other woman sat there, half awkwardly, wondering if we should speak to each other, or interact with the children or just pull out our phones. I can say honestly, I thought I knew what I was supposed to do. But the social norms the other adults were modeling around me told me otherwise. It was disjointing.

I read a story recently about a man who invented a special clip that you could attach to a baby bottle to hold your phone while you fed your child. To say this story troubled me would be an understatement. This is not to say that most of us at some point haven’t flipped on the tv or checked our phones while doing a feeding. But inventing a gadget so that you could have your phone with you every single time? It is the perfect illustration of the extent to which modern parents literally do not understand when and how to use this stuff. That AAP panel – they are making those recommendations for the guy who invented this bottle feeding cell phone holder. So I’m afraid there is a bit of a gap between the expectations of the parent we are supposed to be for our children in every other way, and our limits to teach and model things which we ourselves are still struggling with.

Imagine a world in which we sent our kids to school every day to learn to read with teachers who themselves are still trying to sound out words? This is the answer to the question of where are parents in our national digital dialogue. This is what turns over in my head as I read the revised APP recommendations. So where are the parents?

We are over here buried underneath our gadgets and other people’s expectations of the parents we are supposed to be, still sounding out the words.

Setting boundaries around devices that are made to shatter boundaries between people and spaces is indeed challenging but not impossible. It is hard. And it requires us to own this hardness and model what is hard about it for our children. It requires us to come up with independent and shared solutions about how to create and hold boundaries around technology. It requires us to talk with them, not at them, about what our thought process looks like when we create these tech free spaces. About why it matters to hold them, to nurture white space, and conversation, and awareness. And to do all of this with the understanding that technology can be innovative and fun and creative and all sorts of good things and that we don’t have to fear it or the part of ourselves that in general is prone to addictive tendencies. But we do have to own all of it together.

I’m not sure if our children are waiting for us to mentor them in technology, but rather are waiting for us to mentor them in how to admit our mistakes, how to admit the limits of what we know, and how to stay open to taking in and recalibrating when we receive new information at any age. Doing this will not necessarily make us their digital mentors. Perhaps it will just make us human.

 

 
 

Friday, September 30, 2016

This Entire Election Is About Gender.


If we’re being honest with each other, I’m glad we’ve reached this point. At least we can talk about what this election is really about.

This should not even be a contest. It shouldn’t. Nearly every editorial board in the country including ones that have endorsed Republican candidates for a century, have unequivocally endorsed her. Members of our national security, a former Republican president – pretty much anyone with any knowledge of what it takes to do this job is literally telling us that he is unqualified for the job.

Still, he is ahead.

He is leading in the polls.

Why?

Because he has a penis.

I’m serious. It’s the only reason he is winning right now. If anyone tells you that they can’t vote for Hillary Clinton because of her email server you should immediately stab yourself in the face with a blunt object. Because that is what progress in America in 2016 looks and feels like.

The very fact that this is a contest at all is the definition of a double standard.

She wiped the floor with him at that debate and guess what? It didn’t matter. Why? Because he was gracious enough not to mention her husband’s former indiscretions. We should applaud one man not bringing up another man’s past sexual dalliances.

You see, she is responsible for all of it. She is responsible for staying with a cheater. If she had left, let’s all be straight with each other – she would’ve been another cold divorcee. She owns his mistakes. Some other guy gets points for sort of not mentioning his mistakes. She just loses. She loses if she yells. She loses if she talks. She loses if she smiles. She loses if she is smart. She loses if she owns or is in any way proud of her intelligence.

This election is about currently nearly half of the country supporting a man who has spent the better part of the past 4 days, last night, and early this morning, bringing up the questionable past of a former Miss Universe. You see we can question what she does sexually, that’s fair game because she is a woman. We don’t need to question his own sexual past. That is assumed. Something he should in fact be proud of, or so his old Playboy cover might suggest. Or maybe as he sorts out his current rape investigation. Either way, it’s irrelevant. He’s a man.

In this election, women are fat, bloody pigs who react wildly when challenged, who are manipulative and crooked and vindictive. Is this election about her being a woman? You bet your ass it is. You may not like which woman got first crack at it, but there’s a reason she’s there now. It’s because it’s her that has been absorbing the body blows for the past 30 years (sorry Jill Stein – you can take a seat). It had to be her. She had to go first. Of course she did. She always has.

Still, she’s losing. Every single person – do not kid yourself - literally every single person in this country knows that she is more qualified. But only 40% are willing to even entertain the terrifying notion that we might open up this job to someone without a penis.

This election is about a penis. There are no social issues. Nothing. It is about what you think about women. It is about the burdens we carry with us every single fucking time we open our mouths to be feminine but strong but not too strong – to be healthy but not too thin. To be able to throw back the cheeseburger with the guys, but keep the same waistline as a Barbie doll. To know that when the house looks shitty or the kids act up in the restaurant it’s always our fault. It is because we have always been afraid that if we are too vocal or too smart in class, that we would intimidate the cute boy and then he wouldn’t want to be with us. That strength drives them away. This is not new. We have always known this. I have no idea why I am so shocked to see this play out on a national scale.

I swear to God I have no idea who will win this election. Honestly, I think we’ve just totally underestimated how terrified people are of smart women. So all I can do is dedicate myself every fucking day to raising a man who respects women, who does not compare them to farm animals, who embraces their sexuality, who wants to learn more, who wants to engage with them – who embraces their voice at whatever pitch it comes out at because that is irrelevant to the content of what they are trying to tell him. And I’m going to make it my life’s work to raise young women who will never quit what we’ve started here until we one day people hear them and see them for who they are and not the body part they lack.

I don’t know how this ends, but I swear to God it’s up to us parents of young boys and girls.

We’ve got to be the ones to finish this.

It’s enough.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Buy the Electric Toothbrush and Other Lessons From Your 30s


I am standing in the nail salon staring blankly at the seemingly massive range of colors to choose from. There are dramatic reds and flirty purples and cute pinks and demure soft pinks and those super sparkly ones. There are the fluorescent ones that I imagine you choose if you want to pretend you are a tween or if you actually are a tween. There is the tasteful mauve-ish color my mother would’ve chosen. It is the kind of color that says, “I am a grown up. I know how to do this. You can tell by my toe nail polish color choice.”

The only thing worse than choosing any of these colors is not knowing which one to choose. In a moment of fleeting panic I choose some sort of dark color. It’s not black. I don’t want to pretend I’m moody. It is sort of brownish/gray. I guess it is bray. Or grown. It is called “Over the Taupe” which is like the nail salon’s version of a lame dad joke but either way it’s kind of funny when you are four days shy of 39 so I chuckle to myself. The pedicurist looks at me suspiciously as if I’ve been day drinking. I bury myself in my phone, embarrassed.

I am in the homestretch of my 30s and while I could never have predicted how this decade would have unfolded, I certainly would have thought I would have known more about me as I approach the final lap of it. I preceded my trip to the nail salon with a panic attack at Starbucks when I didn’t know whether or not to put half and half or nonfat milk in my coffee. Half and half makes coffee taste good. Skim milk makes coffee taste bad. But if you want to be healthy you choose the skim milk. But life is too short to do anything other than drink quality cups of coffee. So which one am I today? The healthy me or the carpe diem me? Shouldn’t I know? Does everyone else?

I remember my 30th birthday very well. It was one of those crystal clear days that September seems so generous with. I had been married for one year. I was pregnant with my first child. I did not know if it was a boy or a girl. I lived in a 500 square foot apartment in New York. The world felt like one big ball of possibility. At the start of my 30s, the not knowing felt like a gift rather than an existential crisis.

On my 30th birthday my mother visited me in the city and we spent the day together. We went to see a Broadway show and ate dinner at the Italian place near my apartment which made me a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs that I basically grew my first child on. She gave me an electric toothbrush as a present. It was the kind of gift that sort of felt like it came with the headline, “Shits about to get real.”

It was the kind gift that seemed to say, soon you will completely surrender your needs to someone else and this is good and natural but hard and there will be bills and houses and clogged toilets. There will be grocery shopping and marriage that isn’t new and shiny anymore. Also, your gums will become inflamed because this is a very adultish kind of problem. You will need this electric toothbrush. Here, trust me. All of it will be hard but just take this toothbrush and even though you don’t know how to use it or how to handle any of it, you will. This is what your 30s are for. They are for learning how and why and when to use these things. They are for learning how to adult.

And honestly, all of it was. It still is. It’s all just very Over the Taupe.

As I write this I’m listening to that Chainsmokers song, Closer, play on repeat. “We ain’t ever getting older,” they croon. I can’t help but laugh. Clearly the people singing this song can’t be older than like, 25. No one has ever given them an electric toothbrush as a present. Perhaps when they do, they will write the follow up to this song, Farther, that will include the lyrics, “we are really getting older.”

I squint at my reflection in the driver side window as I leave the salon. I’ve got lines running through my face. Not a ton, but I can’t deny that I look more weathered than I did when I started this decade. I should stop drinking diet Snapple. And get that mole on my back removed. And do yoga. And work on my core and my first novel at night. I realize that the slippery danger of your 30s is nearly choking yourself to death on the shoulds of who you are supposed to be as an adult, until you find that you cannot breathe.

For a reason that escapes me I can’t seem to coordinate my own dinner plans for my birthday. I am almost 39 and I can’t manage a single dinner reservation. I know that my mother with her mauve-ish polish color was planning my father’s 40th at this age. She ordered one of those oversized grinders and planned a wonderful surprise party for him. All of the women had on dresses and all of the men had on khakis and collared shirts and someone gave him a roll of toilet paper with jokes on it that I didn’t understand when I was six but assumed it made sense if you were 40 or almost 40. They were so grown up. I wonder if I will ever arrive at a place in my life where I get the jokes on the toilet paper roll. Was my mother in on this joke? Did she ever actually inhabit adulthood, or was she just better at faking it?

I still do not understand gag toilet paper. But here is what I know so far.

In the first nine years of 30, I’ve become a mother and lost a mother. I had 3 children. I moved 4 times. I bought a house. I started a blog. The whole world accidentally read something I spent about 18 minutes writing. I thought that it would be a rush to have everyone read something I wrote. But instead I hid, literally, under a blanket in my house. I did not answer the phone. I was afraid. And mostly I was surprised by how naturally and instinctively that response was born out of circumstance. Actually owning my own emotions has sort of proved to be the most adult thing I’ve done to date.

People are instinctively drawn to and cannot hide from truth. They are compelled to honor it when they see it and speak it when it bubbles up. Fighting and hiding your truth is very, very tiring and being someone’s parent is tiring enough and so I don’t have time to do two tiring things at once. Also, as most of you already know, I am very bad at multitasking. For safety’s sake, I think it makes sense if we’re all just honest with each other.

I’m going to spend my approaching 39th embracing something I have fought my entire life, the idea that I am bad at the knowing and I am actually good at not knowing stuff. Like I could be a professional not knower. All people who do not know how they like their coffee, I will be your fearless leader! That perhaps my personal quest on this earth is to embrace indecision and to never fit in one box or space or group or dinner reservation or color or even if I do, not know which one that is. Maybe that’s okay.

Lastly, gum care.

This shit is important.

Get the electric toothbrush people. After all, we are getting older.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Sick Obsession


Have you ever felt like you were going to faint? Or throw up? Or maybe even have a seizure? Did you stop to think to yourself before you got sick, I’d like to do this in the most public way possible because I believe that being transparent here is the right thing. Or instead did you worry that others would judge you, or perhaps even fear you. So you hid and went somewhere private.

It sucks to be sick. It sucks even more to be sick in public.

What is it that makes us so scared of sickness in America? Everyone everywhere is whispering about Hillary Clinton’s health and there are hushed tones from people on the news and doctors and campaign surrogates and people in my Facebook feed and all of us are so worried and I literally don’t understand. Is it because we think sick people can’t lead? Is it because we think sick people aren’t strong?

As I watch the news, I’m genuinely stunned by this obsession over Hillary Clinton’s health. I would expect her opponent and some well-seasoned conspiracy theorists to have a gander at this one, but even the mainstream folks are running 24 hour news coverage of basically just hand wringing and speculation about whether or not she is sick.

She might be sick. Really sick.

Is it more than pneumonia? What if it’s Parkinson’s? Are those anti-seizure glasses?

And I’m just floored because honestly, what if she does? What if they are?

So the fuck what.

I do not understand how in 2016 we still associate this concept that people who take medication, who struggle with different physical illnesses are somehow any less fit to lead. It’s honestly a really fucked up conceptualization of leadership.

Hey mainstream media, Doctor Oz, Doctor Drew, Doctor Phil and every other TV doctor out there: sick is not the same as being weak.

Here is what the Republican nominee for president had to say about Hillary Clinton at a speech in Ohio last night. He described her at home, lying in bed, and said this: "It is hot and it's always hot when I perform because the crowds are so big. These rooms were not designed for this kind of a crowd. I don't know, folks. You think Hillary would be able to stand up here for an hour and do this? I don't. I don't think so."

You see what he’s doing there right? He’s taking a dig at her. He’s implying that she is weak and therefore somehow unfit. Perhaps she can’t even stand.

Perhaps.

And this is where voters need to be just slightly savvier than say, a four year old, and say, so what?

What if she can’t? What if she can’t stand up? I think she actually can but that’s irrelevant to this discussion. Do you need to physically stand to be able to lead? Would someone mind exhuming FDR so we can discuss this further?

Here is what most people who live with any kind of illness know with certainty. They have to know way more about their body and be far more in tune with what it needs than the average person. They are hyper sensitive to changes anywhere and in anything. They are skinless. This is not bad. This is good. They are trained to notice everyone and everything: they have to be to keep themselves and others safe. They notice strobe lights and sudden changes in humidity or temperature. They are hyper aware of when they need less sugar or more sleep. They are AWARE.

Here is another thing sick people know. They know that to be successful in any real sense of the word, they need to have a community of folks to rely on. They rely on these folks to do night feedings, to drive, to make meals, to hold conference calls bedside. Sick people learn when and how to ask for help. In fact they learn to plan for it. They understand that smart people, sick or not, don’t become heroes or get any special award for doing it all on their own. They line up a team to help take them onto the battlefield of life. They know how critical it is to pick the very best people to back them up. And they know exactly when and how to press them into service.

Finally, sick people are strong. They show up to work when they are feeling 70%. They take their medicine, they swallow their side effects and other people’s judgements about them and they take it all just for the opportunity to drive and work and fight and love alongside everyone else. They have a deep seeded appreciation for how amazing it is just to be able to show up, regardless of what that looks like on any given day. They campaign for president even when it feels like their very knees might buckle beneath them because they know that this is temporary and purely physical. It doesn’t change or tarnish the permanent drumbeat that exists within to just persist.

I don’t know if Hillary Clinton is sicker than she claims. I honestly don’t. I suspect she isn’t, but all I’m trying to tell you here is that it’s actually not the point.

The point – and listen up CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and everyone else: being sick doesn’t disqualify you from being able to lead.

Leading is about good judgement, decision making, the right team of people to support you, and a laser focus on a big goal. This I’m sure of. And you and I can debate who in this race is better at that. But there is no debate that leadership has nothing to do with physical strength. It sure as hell isn’t about whether or not you can stand.

As we sit here and worry about whether or not Hillary Clinton’s health precludes her being able to assume the role of President, I implore you to consider this quote from another first lady many years ago. These words can be found at the memorial dedicated to her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "Franklin's illness...gave him strength and courage he had not had before. He had to think out the fundamentals of living and learn the greatest of all lessons - infinite patience and never ending persistence."

The fundamentals of living.

Infinite patience.

Never ending persistence.

What does it take to persist in the face of constant attacks from outside and maybe even within your own body? To keep a laser focus on the goal of fighting for others of improving outcomes for women and children and underserved communities. What does that take? What does it look like?

Well, perhaps we could start by asking the 40 year public servant who showed up to honor the fallen 9/11 heroes despite a pretty good bout with pneumonia.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Living History


Here. 9/11 happens to me right here.

In this apartment in this room where I sat, half dressed for interviews I would never go to, in a city that I barely knew wondering to myself, is this how I die? Is this how the world ends?

There is a vast difference between learning about history and living it. September 11th taught me that. I read somewhere recently that for the first time incoming high school freshman will learn about this day having been born after it occurred. They will study it, they will learn through the lenses and gifts of time and perspective about what we did, what we should have done, how it looks from a distance. But for those of us who lived it no matter how much time passes it will never be historical. We will always be there in that moment.

Even now, today, fifteen years later I am there and all I have are questions and no answers. And no one else has answers. Not even people on television and those people are always at least supposed to pretend like they have answers. Everyone everywhere seems to look and act as scared as I feel sitting on this windowsill. Where does it stop? What does it mean? How does it end?

9/11 means questions and fear and vulnerability. Safety is a privilege, not a right. It is the first time I ever see a ticker at the bottom of the screen on my television because at that moment it is quite literally a medium where they are trying to communicate information on how to keep us safe, not just a place to watch Friends. 9/11 means the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stand on end for weeks. It means phones don’t work. It means you should never leave unsaid the things you mean to say to the people you love. Because you never know when you won’t able to finish the conversation.

It means that buildings can literally melt and evaporate into dust. It means nothing and no one is infallible.

It means that heroes are made, not born. That courage means both running toward danger and merely continuing to exist in the face of it.

It means that even if every face in that city is a stranger, when you walk down the stairs and on to the streets of a place you came up on only 3 days earlier, every single person will show up for you. You will feel connected with them. You will study the faces of the missing together in the subway. You will listen to the mayor whenever and wherever he speaks. When the bagpipes play again, you will rise. Everyone lines the streets for every funeral. Obviously. It matters not at all that you do not know whoever you are standing for. He died for me and for you. So obviously we will stand.

It means that all of us who live through history, who live in spite of it, survive and rise.

9/11 teaches me what it means to be American.

I do not know what the banner headline is in that textbook for those incoming freshman. But I hope they feel through this abstract, historical view even some tiny modicum of the biggest lessons of that day. That no one guarantees us anything during our stint here, and that our job is to move forward even when everything seems unknown, and to care for each other deeply along the way.

Friday, July 1, 2016

A Summer of Sloth

So how do you do summer? Join me and the folks over at TODAY where I'm talking about the real value of a Summer of Sloth.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Parenting in the Nethers

As we stand in the middle of Barnes and Noble I’m torn. I told him that he could pick out a book and the one that he’s selected is about Minecraft. That, in and of itself doesn’t necessarily bother me. But this particular Minecraft guide is about combat. That is quite literally the title. Something about combat best practices. I recoil in horror and snap at him in a way that is an intensely disproportionate reaction to an eight year old just wanting to buy a book about a video game he likes. Inside, I begin to hold deeply irrational conversations with myself.

Is this how it starts, I wonder? Is this where it began with Adam Lanza? I know there was more, trips to the shooting range and increased isolation. I know there was more to his story. But at one point, he was just her little boy, right? How did it all start? How does it ever?

He’s arguing hard for the book now and I wonder if I should waver – it is just a book after all. But I hate it. I hate all of it. I hate the idea of violence as play and they know that. I hate the sound of mock shooting and their dimpled fingers drawn which they do with no knowledge at all of how real and terrifying it is to the adults that just seem to swim in new bloodshed each and every day. I feel the insides of my stomach twist up and knot. How do I walk this line between giving him the space I know he needs to explore these games and telling him that there is nothing playful about pretending to kill someone. Anyone. Ever. Killing is not child’s play.

There are two parts to Minecraft: a creative side that is largely about building cool stuff, and a survival mode that is about defending your world and killing angry mobs. It is this survival mode that terrifies me, the way the bad guys descend on you at night and the way you must be ready to kill or be killed. As I replay the morning’s news and faces from Orlando in my head, I wonder how different real life is from all of these games anyway.

I shift his attention quickly to lunch at a nearby restaurant that features an old school Pac Man game which is a major draw for the kids. My son in particular loves it, and I long for the old school video games where monsters were candy colored ghosts that could be eaten. We spend much of lunch talking old school Atari like Frogger and Donkey Kong and I get that wistful look in my eyes that my father used to get when he would think about drive in movies and sing Pete Seeger. I realize how old I must sound. I also realize how much infinitely more idyllic and safe my own childhood was in comparison to my own children’s formative years which seems to just take that knot that formed in my stomach in Barnes and Noble a half hour earlier, and set it on fire.

I want to understand it, all of it, genuinely. I find myself googling things like how do you kill an enderman and happen upon a site that includes a very neat 11 step process. It includes things like:

1.       Get your weapon

2.       Do not look in his eyes

3.       Hide

4.       Eat first and bring food with you in case you get hungry

5.       Go with a full heart

6.       Bring a buddy, because this will make it easier to kill mobs.

I feel a lump of something grow in the back of my throat and swallow my heart. It is so methodical which is appropriate for a video game. But yet maybe I’m also teaching him that violence can be this detached process that can be playful and game like and that’s wrong. I am completely at war with myself as I assume some sort of split parenting personality, one part of me wishing for him to fit in and not overthink it because it is what all the other kids do. The other part of me wanting to draw a sharp line where all of it never becomes okay, the way it’s not okay out there in the nethers of Orlando or Sandy Hook. That it will never be okay in here in the nethers of our basement based video game lair.

So I ask him, why do you like it so much? Why not just stay on the creative side of the game? What is appealing about the survival side? I need to remind him that no matter how playfully it is depicted, killing always ends with someone or something dying. There is a horrifying finality to it. One that video games in particular grossly distort when it portrays this kind of violence as both a winnable and reversible feature.

He describes how terrible the creepers and enderdragons are, and the way the mobs descend on your creations and worlds when night falls. He talks at length about what it feels like to finally destroy them.

“Pride,” he says. “That’s what I feel when I finally defeat the bad guys.” I close my eyes and picture Senator Murphy’s filibuster, the sit in on the House floor. I can relate perfectly to what he is saying.

Later that night, no one is more surprised than me to find myself cruising Amazon in search of Minecraft fan fiction. This is my chance to squash this moment but instead I’m encouraging him to learn more about the game, to pursue more battles and swords. As I navigate this minefield of both actual and virtual complex emotions and violence, I am struck by how much modern day parenting feels like we are all perpetually operating in survival mode.

Perhaps if I am honest with him about how difficult and scary all of it really is, I can keep us safe until morning comes again.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Do You Like Me?


This morning I was part of another discussion on social media among friends and family members gauging the likeability of Hillary Clinton and the relative importance of likeability when voting. I couldn’t discount that voters would likely consider it when making their choice. But I argued that I did not believe there was a correlation between likeability and effectiveness. But the whole conversation continued on surely longer than it should’ve about whether or not we’d go to a Hillary barbeque and honestly all of it was just ridiculous. But it stayed with me, the whole thing. And I couldn’t stop thinking about her. But the “her” wasn’t Hillary. It was my Ruby.

She’s wrapping up Kindergarten now and she’s honestly amazing. I say all the time that I truly have never encountered anyone on God’s green earth like Ruby. If you meet her, I know you will agree. The first time she met her teacher back in August, she did some sort of twerking type of dance. She dry heaves from cottage cheese. She sings Flo Rida in the shower. When her soccer team was trying to think of a name for themselves, she was the only one to suggest the John Cenas (they went with the purple power). Her hair is a color that seems to be made up of twenty different colors. It is not one that I have ever seen in nature. It is thick and curly and spectacular. Much like Ruby herself, it seems to be in its own orbit. She plays often with the boys at recess. She likes to see who can run the fastest. Sometimes when she beats one and she smiles, they accuse her of bragging.
It’s really tricky you know. She is inheriting so much trickiness at such a young age. Because she is a girl, she should be humble, not proud.


I make her where those special shorts under her dresses so that when she flips upside down at recess as I am certain she will do that others will not see her underpants. I know she doesn’t care. They are pretty underpants – white with blue hearts and pink piping. But even at six I am teaching her to be careful and cautious. To hide herself away not because she cares, but because she has to worry about what other people will think or see or do. She has to prioritize other people’s needs over her desire to flip and jump and spin with abandon. All of it sucks.

Sometimes I watch her carefully on the soccer field and am so amazed. She is a force, running up and down that field in relentless pursuit of the ball. But she is different from many of the girls. They all have those perfectly straight long blonde pony tails and long skinny brown legs. She is curves. My curves. Rounded, with my soft belly. Strong, active, talented, but never straight. Not once does she approach anything in life like a straight line.

Life for Ruby I suspect will be exactly like her hair which we battle with each night, trying to find the perfect amount of conditioner and spray that will finally allow us to get a comb through without an epic cry fest from both of us. In the morning, she brushes it relentlessly because she wants it to be smooth. I know she is wondering, is this how I can fit in? For this, no amount of brushing will do. For the really special ones like you my sweet Ruby, smooth must never be the goal.

Mean girl stuff starts as early as possible now, even in Kindergarten. She hasn’t experienced too much of it yet, but I know what’s coming for her. I know that she is not like the other girls. I know that she is not like anyone else on this planet really. In this way I wonder, will this make her unlikeable?

It is bizarre to me that I wonder this about Ruby. It is something I almost never consider when it comes to Dylan because he is a boy. Boys fight and settle their differences and move on. They care less about the dirt on their shirt or under their nails. They settle almost everything in the gaga pit. There is a physicality to almost all of their relationships that serves as the great equalizer. I am frustrated for her that she can’t settle her future battles this way. Instead of being praised for her aggression and serving the final blow in wall ball or gaga, she’ll come home crying because her hair wasn’t smooth enough. Her legs weren’t straight enough. It all wasn’t enough.
And then she’ll be this island. More physical and smart and beautiful then anyone or anything I’ve ever encountered yet equally sure that if she stands up and owns any of it, she’ll be boasting. She’ll be obnoxious. She’ll be unlikeable.

Ugh, she’s bragging.

What a bitch.

I can’t stand her.

Likeability is the ultimate smear for women. No matter how much they accomplish, no matter how many awards they win, offices they hold, how fast they run, no matter how pretty their hair looks, it is the ultimate way that we destroy the last shreds of their dignity.

Frankly, I just don’t like you.
 
What can you say to that? Nothing.

There is no retort to that. There is no way to out logic that.

It just sucks.

I’ve seen the old pictures of Hillary. I’ve seen those big glasses. She was never going to be Melania or even those pretty Gore girls with their long straight hair. She was going to be awkward. And freakishly smart. She was going to work her ass off. She was going to get it done. She was going to win every award. But maybe they still weren’t going to invite her to the barbeque. Ugh.

It might not be today. Maybe it won’t even be tomorrow. But soon she is going to be the first women ever nominated for president of the United States by a major party. I hope that whether you like her or not, you pause to reflect on the historical significance of that moment with your daughters.

I know I’m going to be showing it to mine. I’m going to tell her, you see that smile? That’s not bragging. She earned that.  
 
I will show her that maybe, just finally in 2016, we have managed to set bigger goals for our girls than smooth hair and being liked. I will show her that here, now, there is so much more possible for her to inherit.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Definition of Motherhood



Every night before Dylan goes to sleep, I ask him if he has any worries to give me. It’s a silly gesture, but it makes both of us feel better for some reason. He hands me some imaginary load of 8 year old problems – things that I am happy are the full extent of his worries - like what kind of pea shooters to plant to battle the zombies, and how to outlast everyone in the Gaga pit at recess, and who or what makes those shadows under the dark corner of his desk at night. I always pretend to catch them, like an imaginary football. I tell him he doesn’t have to worry anymore, that he can rest easy, I’ll carry his load for him that night.

I guess I’m just reminding him I’m his Mother.

This is what we do, right? But we don’t just carry them. We are magicians of sorts. We use them, we spin them into questions and dreams, we use them and we build on them. We teach them how to look at them in the morning with fresh eyes: to see them as new fuel for love and strength, and from stuff to learn from. And when we can’t shape it into anything more than it is, we promise to shoulder it with them. We help them carry it. Because burdens and worries are less scary in the light, and when someone else helps us carry the load.

I found some old pictures the other night that brought a lot of this to the surface. I remember the exact moment when my father took them. My oldest was just ten days old. And my parents who had helped me bring him home, were leaving. I was emotional and the kind of unique hot mess you are when you are 10 days post-partum: when you are fueled by caffeine and pure love and 8,000 different hormones and complete ignorance of how to care for another human and WHY ARE THEY LEAVING ME IN CHARGE OF THIS TINY HUMAN THAT CAME WITH NO DIRECTIONS? I do not know how to do this. I cannot do this.

Just then my father, not knowing how to handle the complex emotions that were most assuredly about to spill out at him pointed his camera at me to take my picture with my mother. I was wearing maternity jeans and could feel hot tears welling up behind my eyes ready to pop out at any second. I smiled halfheartedly. But he kept clicking and instinctively as the tears rolled down my face my mother jumped in front of me, to shield me from the camera lens, to hold me, to reassure me that I could do this. I didn’t know if I believed it. I just knew that it was what I needed to hear and feel. And she knew that. She scooped up my worries. Even if I was too big to scoop up, and she could no longer scoop up my son, there she was whispering in my ear: don’t worry. You’ve got this. We’ve got this.

Motherhood is about a lot of things. Way more than any of these blog posts ever surmises. But if even for a moment, there is someone special in your life who helps you, who helped you share the load, than you are blessed. They carry it from a place of understanding, from a place of love, and from a place that comes from wanting more than anything to shield you from hurt and equally knowing that this is fundamentally impossible. But still, trying again anyway.

I’m pretty sure that is the definition of insanity.

That is love.

And it certainly seems like the definition of motherhood.

Happy Mother’s Day you crazy kids. I love you all.

 
 
 

 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Walking Dead: The Mombie Edition

The Sleep Revolution, by Arianna Huffington, is a guide to the history, science, emotional, social and physical value of, and best practices for getting your best sleep. It’s a natural follow-up to Huffington’s 2014 bestseller, Thrive, which focused on how to redefine our culture’s view of success. Here, she talks about something so simple and within our control, which could easily be holding us back from living the fullest and most successful version of ourselves: sleep. The book is an easy read, logically organized, and well written – quite fittingly a pretty good bedtime read.

In the first few pages Huffington recounts a personal story – one she shares in Thrive as well – where she collapsed after several days of touring colleges with her daughter, answering work emails all night, and giving interviews during off hours. Her collapse, and the series of doctor’s visits she had afterwards, were her wake up call. It was time to renew her relationship with sleep, something that she, as many of us do, took for granted.  She argues that reprioritizing our relationship with sleep will not only make us healthier and infinitely more productive (which it will), but that it also will allow us to further deepen our relationship with ourselves, by carving out designated white space in our frenetic and hyper connected lives to ponder and dream.

What happens when we let go of all of the stuff we need to do, when we let go of all the stuff we didn’t do, and just focus on the most basic thing within our control: self-renewal?

Huffington unpacks the history of sleep, and details the ways in which the industrial revolution led the way for the unique “colonization” of the night, something that had been previously unthinkable. And just as artificial light paved the way for the night shift, the evolution of smart technology and cell phones has colonized a new night shift for nearly everyone. Huffington touches briefly on the urgency for a new labor movement in the digital age of the 21st century, writing, “Workers of the world, unplug!” I loved this conceptualization and was hoping Ms. Huffington would talk at more length about the role that technology plays in our increasingly national problem with sleep dysfunction. She does, but on a more abstract level.

She writes: “Stillness – our ability to pause and connect with our deeper selves – is a skill that can be learned and cultivated. And this is all the more important when the world is coming at us at an increasingly frantic pace. So for me, becoming comfortable with stillness – without a constant stream of external stimulation – was a prerequisite to becoming comfortable with sleep.” Technology, and our ability to be connected 24 hours a day to each other, our jobs, and to news and information, has made the seemingly simple task of achieving stillness, increasingly complex.

For me, this is the most fascinating aspect of Huffington’s Sleep Revolution. That in our national obsession with being busy and connected, we have completely forgotten how to be still, and how important it is to practice and covet this space. That this place of stillness is in fact where we begin to learn how to rest.  Huffington’s second half of the book offers useful guidance here on how to create this space, including cutting edge sleep technology to tailor your sleep to your needs, as well as the best mattress, temperature, what to eat and drink, and guided meditations to get you into the most conducive mental and physical space necessary for your best night’s sleep.

But for any of it to work, you have to commit to the idea that sleep (and by extension your own physical and emotional needs) are a priority, and carve out the space to explore them. This is a deceptively illusive concept for many of us, in particular for parents like myself who have grown accustomed to spending nearly every single moment of every day and night tending, rocking, cooking, caring, thinking and worrying about our children. Modern day parenting, as a verb, is increasingly a 24/7 proposition.

In perhaps one of the more telling lines of the book, Huffington writes, “Lying in bed putting out imaginary fires is one of the most draining things we can do.” I will confess that I may have laughed out loud when I read that line. Why? Because if I ever write a book about parenting, I could easily envision titling it, Lying in Bed Putting Out Imaginary Fires. Isn’t this how so many parents spend each night? We hit the playback reel, punishing ourselves for the hurt feelings or skinned knees we didn’t prevent today, knowing full well that despite every effort to forecast them, we won’t be able to prevent the ones we love from getting hurt again tomorrow. Huffington writes, “For me, changing my relationship with sleep meant first coming to terms with the idea of shutting down the day.” For parents, this, more than any important nugget she offers, is central to the idea of reclaiming our sleep.

She recommends carving out specific clothes and spaces and time for the ritual for sleep which, again, sound oddly obvious and yet, how many of us fail to do this? On more than one night that I care to admit, I’ll fall into bed with someone’s dinner crusted on one shoulder of my shirt just grateful for the chance to get any time to myself. Could I consider it quality time where I recharge and rest? Umm, no. It’s more like having the option of drinking Evian or drinking out of a toilet and frankly you are just so thirsty you can’t really decipher which is which. I guess both will give you some sort of immediate satisfaction. But in the long run? Well, not so much.

Her argument about the role that real sleep, as in 7+ hours of uninterrupted deep, restful sleep and not just an hour or so curled up in yesterday’s clothes next to the pile of laundry you didn’t fold, could play in my ability to power through the next day, was convincing. It is in this vain that I think everyone, and especially sleep deprived parents, need to read The Sleep Revolution.

But if we are really going to reclaim the night, we have to stop making it such a funny and cute and clever thing to be so exhausted. Even Ms. Huffington’s own online media empire – The Huffington Post – ran a meme the other day on their parenting page. It read: The Mombie: A mom who is beyond exhausted but stays up late anyhow since it’s her only opportunity for kid free time. At least four of my friends shared that meme from the HuffPost Parents page. And I laughed. I mean, we all laughed. And we shared it. Because we understand.

We bond over it. But the truth is, it’s hard, and physically draining, and, as Huffington herself argues, perhaps more than not a little bit dangerous for us and our children to drive and cook and care for others given how exhausted we all are most of the time.

Huffington argues in The Sleep Revolution that we pay a real price for those “mombie” hours: the cost comes at our ability to regulate stress, decipher complex emotions, or navigate difficult situations during the day. We don’t sleep so that we can preserve some piece of ourselves at night. But by not sleeping, we are chipping away at our best shot at getting the sleep necessary to reclaim some part of the body and spirit of that pre-kid person, the one we ironically go in search of each night.

In the end, perhaps what was so revolutionary about The Sleep Revolution for me is that it is about me – my own sleep. My own needs. I’ve got tons of books at home about sleep. How to get my baby to sleep. Eighteen ways to make your baby’s night a good one. All the ways to help my son fall asleep more easily. Never once did I consider that the book I needed was this one. Writing of the importance of modeling this for our children, she argues that we need to be “showing them how we are doing this.” It never occurred to me that perhaps at least some part of my own child’s sleep dysfunction was a reflection of how little I prioritized it myself. How watered down must the argument of the importance of him going to bed seem, when he quite rightfully knows I stay up all night doing all sorts of critical things, like laundry, reruns, and checking Facebook.

Huffington argues that sleep is not a “tradeable commodity” and I have to tell you that I started this book from a place where I absolutely would have told you something different. That I was able to just go on less hours. That I always have been able to do with less sleep. But her book has helped reframe my thinking here, at least in part. The Sleep Revolution argues that my best self awaits, and that it begins and ends with a good night’s sleep. After reading, I cannot help but concur that certainly a better version of myself awaits, one who after a long and loud and frenetic day with little ones, can truly learn to appreciate a bit more the myriad of gifts that stillness offers me each night.