the pity party’s over

Admittedly, I was feeling like a bit of a brat earlier this week. The moment I got over my bad mood, my focus turned to other tasks at hand…namely, some baking and other preparations for an event to benefit a neighborhood family whose son has cancer.

In other words, I am reminded once again that I am blessed beyond measure. My children are healthy. I am healthy. And that is enough for me to be content.

redefining responsibility

I was a solid step parent. I loved my wasband’s children, who were into their late teens and early adulthood during our relationship. Both of their parents were conflict and difficult topic averse, so I had many of the “difficult conversations” with them — we talked about sex, drugs, relationships and more. But where I really excelled in this role was not getting sucked into the shit and actually seeing and pointing out the dysfunction in my ex’s family.

Here’s what would happen:  someone from the outside, maybe a distant cousin, would attack my then partner. His children would then launch into two behaviors:

  • Protect their mother
  • Defend their father

Let me comment on these:  No child is ever responsible for protecting or defending either of their parents. I don’t care whether my stepchildren were already late teens or in early adulthood. The only time this behavior may be necessary is when the parents are compromised or infirm, through age, disease or mental disorders. But children often carve out roles in the family based on birth order, socialization or other circumstances, and end up contributing to the dysfunction rather than mitigating it. And then they carry these dysfunctional responses with them into adulthood, as many of us have.

The truly important thing here, and one that many of us overlook, is the way we respond to attacks or bad behavior:

Think of the word “responsible”  — it’s true meaning is “ability to respond.” So what are we responding to? The words or the behavior? Sometimes the ability to respond means knowing which of these to respond to. Often, rather than jumping in to a frenzy of verbal warfare (responding to the words), it’s best to simply say, “That was mean. I don’t appreciate you attacking my family. It’s none of your business” or “Ouch; that hurt!” (responding to the behavior).

Years after my own parents’ divorce, my father used to call me and, during every conversation, he would bring up my mother with some snide or sarcastic remark like, “Your mother called to tell you she loves you.” However true it may have been that my mother was, at this time, reserved and relatively inattentive, I eventually had to ask my father to stop bringing her up in conversation and that I would have my own relationship with my mother, thank you very much.

My mother, for her part, called and visited frequently while going through her own divorce. Again, I listened and empathized…but, after I’d heard her repeating the same feelings and questions (e.g. “why?”) several times, I reflected back to her that she was allowing her mind to dwell in these thoughts — much like a broken record skips back and plays the same part of a song over and over (for those of you who remember turntables and vinyl, anyway). I suggested she talk to a therapist and, while I didn’t hear from her again for a few weeks immediately following my pointed recommendation, our relationship is now more open than ever.

So today I ask you to think about the relationships in your life and what type of responsibility you have in them. How able are you to respond? Are you responding to words or behaviors? How well do you navigate which to use when?

I’d love to hear your thoughts or stories.

what would you do if you won the lotto?

I’ve heard a lot of people lately sharing their fantasies of what they’d do if they won the lottery. What strikes me about these fantasies is their utter outlandishness…radical moves, big purchases — things like “taking a sailboat around the world” come from the mouths of folks who’ve never even sailed!

So here’s where I’m going to confess:  I buy a lotto ticket every so often and I have been known to entertain a fantasy shopping spree or two. Depending on the size of the prize, my big ridiculous fantasy is to have my own private island, preferably in the Caribbean and, ideally, near to Necker Island, family getaway and business retreat to one Sir Richard Branson. (In reality, I’m not such a recluse as all that, so I’m sure a place on St. Barth’s would do nicely. And then, the pragmatic me knows that it’s just as easy to go to rent a luxurious place, because being responsible for all the maintenance of yet another property is just not a necessary addition to my life.)

And my wildest fantasies are tempered by both an innate pragmatism and my spiritual practice. I have my own happiness to tend to, and I have children to raise to be decent, unspoilt contributors to society. Studies have shown that people who’ve won the lottery end up either as broke as before, completely miserable or both.

So here’s what I’d likely do (to preserve stability and happiness) were I to win great sums of money:

  • Buy a nice car, because I am a bit of a gear head at heart and I truly appreciate a nice ride!
  • Find a nice lot not far from where I already live and build a modern house, preferably one that incorporates sustainable design, quite possibly including reclaimed shipping containers.
  • Start a foundation to support women & children, both in developing countries / economies and in domestic areas of disadvantage (e.g. inner cities).
  • Spend more time with my children.
  • Buy art and support artists and creativity.
  • Travel more.

The reason I like to look at these things is based on a very simple philosophy:  I can make choices every day that support the way I want to live. I used to discuss this with my wasband. He might say something about winning the lottery and I would reply, “You already have. We already have.” We were blessed to be born into this country (in his case, he immigrated with his parents as a young child), to have earned an education, to have found someone special to with whom to share life, to have healthy children… These things, my friends, are winning! This is all that we need and more to know how truly, deeply blessed we are in this life! (…and, still, we manage to muck these things up.)

Another way to put it is, “How would you live if you knew that your prayers were already answered?” I ask myself such things regularly and then translate into present conditions. I may not have the financial wherewithal to buy a tropical island, but I can find ways in my current life to

  • increase the quality of time I spend with my children,
  • support art and artists, both locally and through and,
  • give to United Way and offer micro loans to women and children around the world through,
  • drive a decent car,
  • keep up my house and property, etc.

I think you get the idea… So this is the message I want to share with you. Live as if you’ve already won! Make the choices and take the steps that support your biggest dreams. Even if the steps you take are small, each one still brings you closer to the life you desire most.

I’m gonna be a cool grandma

There are women out there who, when they take on the title of Grandma, will be able to share stories with their grandchildren about their epic life-long love affairs with Grandpa. They are the women who celebrate 50 years of marriage and more.

Having clearly failed this feat (which I assume stands a 50% chance at having been a miserable endeavor even for those who stick it out), I am resigned to be the cool grandmother. I’ll be the grandma with whom my granddaughters can talk about boys and sex. Assuming I am blessed with granddaughters, that is. Heck, I’d talk to my grandsons about sex, too, if it didn’t creep them out too much.

I’ll tell them stories of escapades with men, far-flung crushes and long-distance loves. I’ll tell them about “The Good Ol’ Days” when people met on an archaic dating site called And I’ll marvel with them about how far we’ve come.

But all this is a long way off…I’ve yet to have any such talks with my own elementary-age children!

reflections on the one-year milestone

My ex moved out a year ago today.

Thinking about that still hurts my heart just a little. There’s a tender spot as I reflect on the heartache and pain I suffered (and just as likely caused for another) in my marriage, as well as the failure to provide my children what I believed was so important to give them — a solid, secure and loving family environment.

(As I write this, Dusty Springfield has rotated into my iTunes playlist with I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself. Would you call that ironic?)

The melancholy in reflecting on this stems from two sources:  First, that I loved so much and so deeply and yet didn’t know how to love, as surely causing pain to object of my love as he did to me. Second, that I chose so poorly in the first place. It’s difficult to accept that I knew so little about myself or was blind to so many signs that I picked a partner who would draw out so much pain and anger, forcing me to deal with them and grow (while he simply pointed fingers). I can’t help but believe there had to have been a kinder, gentler way to learn these lessons.

(And now Joan Armatrading’s Willow — “I said I’m strong, straight, willing to be your shelter in the storm…”)

I still remember the first day of it being just us:  my two elementary-school-age children and me. I explained to them that, without Daddy here every day to do things for them, they would have to help out by making their own school lunches, among other things. I assured them I would step in to help when needed, and that we were all capable and would be fine taking responsibility for ourselves and helping each other.

This is when my son teared up, “I don’t know if I can do it, Mommy.” He is a tender-hearted young soul, and so generous with his empathy and feelings! He continued to stress through the evening and even as I tucked him in to bed. My daughter, on the other hand, was excited about being given more independence and responsibility.

The next morning, everyone got up just a little earlier and pushed through the morning tasks of dressing, eating breakfast, making lunch, etc. just a little more diligently. We all got out the door on time, successfully. My favorite moment was at the end of the day when my son remarked, “Mommy, I guess I didn’t even need to worry.”

These past twelve months have also brought a number of lessons and much growth. I recall feeling that taking out the trash and recycling wasn’t really adding to my workload. And I also remember discovering other areas where my ex picked up more slack than I ever realized or gave him credit for. It hasn’t always been easy, and there have been plenty of hiccups along the way — my ex appears to be declining to communicate with me right now, as an example. Yet I can’t help feeling that we’ve come a long way.

My children have gained patience, self-reliance, a greater understanding that their parents are merely human and the capacity to be more helpful and responsible than I might have thought possible for their ages. (And still I work to balance this with their need for innocence.)

As for me, I am gaining confidence in making the choices and life decisions that nurture me. I am seeing more clearly what happens when I neglect to do important things that I’d prefer to ignore (the banking, taxes and money management, for instance). I am growing stronger, more clear and determined in my life path. And I am learning how empowering it is to commit to my own happiness, even if it requires making choices that once seemed impossible.

(Citizen Cope If There’s Love)

So I keep going back to my son’s wise words:  “I guess I didn’t need to worry.”

a lesson in abundance

I was turned on to a recording by Dov Baron the other day, and one of the concepts he talked about was so simple, so memorable and so powerful that I felt compelled to share it with my children, and now with you:

Imagine you’re here with me in my living room. I’m pulling money out of my pocket. I take a bill and hold it up. You see that it’s a $100 bill.

“How much is this worth?” I ask you.

You say, “one hundred dollars.”

Right. So, I ask “How much would it be worth if I took it to the bank?”

You answer, “$100.”

And I ask:  “How about if I took it to a restaurant? A clothing store? To Target? To a gas station?”

It’s still worth $100.

What if I threw it on the ground and stomped on it?


What if I crumpled it up? What if I cupped the crumpled mess in one hand and used my other fist to hit it? What if I yelled obscenities and insults at it?

It’s still worth $100. Its value hasn’t changed.

That’s how our self-worth must be. We are all worth every bit as much as that first moment we came into this world and our mother and/or father looked into our eyes with love and awe.

So, whether we’ve been hurt, called names, insulted, physically abused, verbally abused, no matter what our boss or co-workers or friends or enemies or neighbors or family members have said, our worth and our value in this world has not changed. We are still precious, miraculous and worthy…and to live with this knowledge is bliss!

Of course, at the end of this lesson, I asked my children how much they are worth.

My son replied knowingly, “Two thousand and three dollars,” for the year (“moment”) of his birth.

I assured him he and his sister are worth much, much more.

telling the children

about a year ago…

We sat down in the living room on a snowy Saturday morning to tell the children that we didn’t want to be together anymore, and that Daddy would be moving out. It should have been obvious to me that he would throw me under the bus:  he clarified, “this is what Mommy wants.”

My younger was emotional; my older merely shrugged. The discussion was over almost before it began, and I later wondered why I had held so much fear about this moment. It was certainly something I had never wanted to do. I never wanted to have to tell my children that what they knew as a family could no longer remain intact. And yet somehow, at least my oldest, had known it was coming.

The children and I put on our wraps and went out to play in the snow. My older child, my daughter, was met at the playground by her best friend who, upon hearing the news, lamented, “That is so sad. My parents promised never to get a divorce.”

“Yes,” I said. “It is very sad.” I explained that I never would have wanted this for my children nor for myself. “You see the way your parents treat one another:  they talk with each other, touch and laugh together. Your parents are best friends. I would have loved that kind of partnership. But, as you’ve seen, we didn’t have that.”

Children have such a beautiful and authentic way of expressing themselves. I did my best to match that authenticity in sharing with my daughter’s friend, and on a level that all three children might hear and understand. In so doing, I was immediately reassured that the three of us, my children and I, would be all right after all.

I knew there would be difficult conversations, hurt and pointed questions from my children. What I did not anticipate was my own confidence and clarity in speaking to them. My own honesty and directness in this and other teaching moments has been a pleasant door open to trust and dialogue.