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Posts from the ‘Letters to my son’ Category

Speaking Your Mind

Dear Loch,

I’m a big believer in saying what you mean and meaning what you say. I think semantics matter. I believe the words you choose are important and how you feel deserves to be heard. That being said, I am also a big believer in holding your tongue. Every thought in your head does not require a voice. You shouldn’t speak just to hear your opinions echoed back and your thoughts should not run people over. I touched on the concepts of speaking up for yourself in When Polite Becomes a Problem and, as always, I believe everything we do, including speaking our minds, should be done with Manners and civility, but I wanted to take a moment to emphasize how important I believe it is to be candid with your thoughts.

tumblr.com

tumblr.com

We have a fair number of friends and family who swallow their feelings. People who won’t acknowledge how they feel despite how obvious those feelings are to everyone around them. People who bottle their emotions and lie to themselves (and others) about what’s really going on. I’ve personally never been able to do that. That’s not to say I’m some highly evolved emotional genius who knows how things should be, but rather that I’ve always been one to wear my heart on my sleeve and my feelings on my face. Over time, I found it was just simpler to put a voice to my feelings rather than pretend otherwise. I wasn’t fooling anyone anyway.

blogher.com

blogher.com

Writing this blog, there have been times when I’ve been accused of “airing my dirty laundry”, of being “too candid”, “too honest” or voicing only MY “opinion“. I’ve had phone calls and emails from people who feel mischaracterized or uncomfortable with the truth I’ve put out in the world and I always feel terrible when this happens. I don’t believe my honesty is wrong, I’m just sorry my observation of the facts has upset anyone. As a result, I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking these situations through and, as uncomfortable as those conversations can be, I think everyone involved (myself included) comes out far better than when the issue was simply tucked away. I’m aware my thoughts and writings are my take on the world, but I try exceptionally hard to be fair and honest in my personal interactions. I do my best to avoid judgement and at the end of the day, I am most critical of myself. That being said, I believe in hitting issues straight on. I’m not one to beat around the bush. I think dirty laundry deserves to be aired. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away, it just allows it to pile up and permeate your life. Taking things out and cleaning them up is the only way to stop them from festering. It might not be the most pleasant experience but it’s necessary if you want to live an unburdened life.

magerempowerment.com

magerempowerment.com

Ignore. Ignore. Ignore. Deny. Deny. Deny. Stiff upper lip stuff doesn’t work long term. It only serves to mask problems that end up rising up when you least expect them. I don’t advocate going through life telling everyone what you feel at every moment. That would be unnecessary social suicide and as much as I believe in owning your truth, I remain a proponent of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. I do, however, feel that biting our tongue to the detriment of yourself, or someone you love, is not helpful. Keeping criticism at bay is a safe bet, but observations and honest truths, even if you know them to be subjective, are essential to our personal self worth and the integrity of our relationships.

fergusonvalues.com

fergusonvalues.com

There are ways to spare people’s feelings. To find something kind to say that is true without being insincere. But only when we acknowledge the truth of our situation can things begin to change. What’s the worst that can happen by being honest with your feelings? Someone gets upset? The situation becomes awkward? That’s tolerable. You can live through that. What’s unacceptable to me is fake, insincere relationships with people who are close to you. Working though something, no matter how uncomfortable, carries with it the possibility of resolution, growth and improvement. Holding on to resentment only breeds contempt.

Speaking your mind, standing up for yourself, telling people how you feel (in an appropriate way) is an essential life skill. The world is full of people afraid to rock the boat. You can’t solve issues that way and you’ll never be truly happy if you’re not truly yourself. Stamping down your feelings will ultimately only make you feel bitter and misunderstood. That’s no way to go through life.

wordsoverpixels.com

wordsoverpixels.com

Having the courage to tell someone you’re upset or uncomfortable should be done just as confidently as letting someone know you appreciate and respect them. We should approach the good and bad with the same level of candor. Without honesty, we’re just acting like ourselves, not being ourselves. Every painful conversation I’ve ever had – be it with my parents, your Dad, a friend, a colleague – has ultimately ended in a positive result. Even if it makes you feel twitchy or you don’t end up with the resolution you’d hoped for – you break up, end up leaving a job or losing a friend – at least you can look in the mirror and know you did everything you could to make it right. You respected yourself and your feelings enough to let them be heard. People who bottle their emotions might seem to coast along without drama, but lack of conflict doesn’t mean you’re not conflicted and being “ok” is not the same as being happy.

Speak up for yourself. Don’t let anyone take your voice from you. Be a kind but not a weak person. What you think, what you want, what you feel, matters. Choose to be an active part of your own happiness. Ask for what you want. Stand up for what you believe in. Choose your words carefully but say what you mean. It may be socially acceptable to suppress your feelings to avoid making waves, but without waves there is no movement, and I don’t want you stuck in a life going nowhere.

Get movin’!

I love you forever.

xo mom

blog.daniellesonnenberg.com

blog.daniellesonnenberg.com

Robbed!

Dear Loch,

Not so long ago you asked us the difference was between a thief and a robber. Your Dad and I both started answering before we simultaneously realized we didn’t know the answer. It’s fun when your children start teaching you things. Even if it’s by simply pointing out there’s more to learn. As it turns out, the difference is this:

Thief: one that steals especially stealthily or secretly
Robber: one who takes money or property from (a person or a place) illegally by using force, violence, or threats

So, one uses force and the other stealth. It goes without saying we’d all rather be theif-ed than robbed but honestly either kinda sucks. We discovered that recently when all our luggage was stolen out of the car we’d secretly packed to surprise you with a trip to Disneyland.*

salon.com

salon.com

When bad things happen, especially after getting sick, I often feel like…Did I break a mirror at some point and not notice? Recently it feels more like…Did I break a mirror while walking under a ladder kicking a black cat? This is ridiculous. Was I a hideous person in a past life? Am I being punished for something? As far as I know I’m good, I have no memory of being otherwise, and yet when life rises up and slaps me in the face I think, what is this all about?

Even with those kind of thoughts, which I understand are a bit ridiculous and cause your father to roll his eyes, I recognize our theft could have been much worse. We had only packed for two days (three, as I tend to overpack) and all our electronics and toiletries were still in the house along with the important un-replaceables, like your beloved bluies and stuffed animals. We lost a bunch of clothes for sure, shoes and other sundries that all can eventually be replaced, but the thought of trying to re-cobble together my makeup or face creams, your Dad’s contacts, or having to replace all of our i-everythings, would have been a complete nightmare.

I no longer own any of the clothes I'm wearing in this picture.

I no longer own any of the clothes I’m wearing in this picture.

Aside from one momentary spazz attack (5 seconds max) when I realized our stolen day bag included my driver’s license and large number of my medications, I was pretty calm about the whole thing. Now “pretty calm” may sound unimpressive, but for someone like me who’s prone to dramatic, emotional outbursts, it’s actually saying a lot. When I called to tell my parents, Granddad was astounded I wasn’t hysterical. I think he thought I’d been body snatched, but really, freaking out was a useless endeavor. Yes, being robbed is rotten. Sure, it’s inconvenient. It definitely made me wildly angry, but having a breakdown about it wasn’t going to fix anything. I needed to handle the situation and dissolving into a pile of mush wasn’t going to get my credit card cancelled or our police report filled out.

The most frustrating thing, aside from losing my beloved grey skinny jeans and favorite black boots, is how much of your time is stolen when your things are stolen. On top of taking our stuff, this unknown skeeve has taken hours, probably days, of my time sorting out his mess. It took us three hours of initial callings to police, banks, and insurance companies and two more filling out all the necessary paperwork. I still have to go to the DMV to get a new license, the bank to get a new bank card, the Ford Dealership to replace my Navigation card and to figure out how someone could have acquired access to our locked car in the first place. Letters have to be written to my health insurance company and on-line pharmacy to start the process of reissuing my medication and they’ll be a huge deductible to pay before we can even start replacing what was lost. Factor in the time I will spend on craigslist inanely trying to crack the case myself and you get the picture.

DON'T TAKE OUR STUFF!!!

DON’T TAKE OUR STUFF!!!

Having things stolen makes you angry. You feel violated. You ask yourself who would do such a thing? I didn’t freak out in the moment but, after the fact, I felt furious. Who breaks into someone’s car and takes suitcases and backpacks not even knowing what’s in them? You don’t need anything specifically, you’re just hoping there’s something in there you want. Who combs through someone’s possessions cherry picking favorites like they’re shopping in a store? Sunglasses? Check. Car seat? Nah. What kind of person feels justified emptying someone’s car into their own? Our thieves had to have brought a vehicle because there was just too much stuff to have carried away without one. An entire bag of coffee table books and novels? Really? You need that? They didn’t even have the time to use my bank card or ID between when the car was loaded at 1:30am and when we found it emptied 5 hours later. Will they try and sell our clothes? They’re not worth much used and yet they’ll cost us at least a couple thousand to replace. What’s the point of it all, other than to increase our sense of distrust and to make security companies more money? It all seems so senseless.

We still made it!

We made it!

Driving to Disney that afternoon (because we were still going damn it!) your Dad and I talked ad nausum about how livid we felt being taken advantage of that way. We discussed how we couldn’t even fathom how hysterical and vengeful we’d feel if it was a person and not stuff that had been taken or violated. In those hours following the robbery we really understood how people find themselves at a place where they feel a visceral need for retribution. A dark place of fury and vengeance. We lost jeans and boots, sweaters and jackets. How do people lose people and ever get past it? And if they do find out who it was, how do they possibly live with that? I imagined how I might behave if I was confronted with our thief and it was alarming. Your Dad wants to put trackers in all our luggage now. I want to chip the both of you for safety.

New matching suits just in time for their night swim!

New matching suits just in time for their night swim!

As horrible and heartbreaking as the whole situation was, our family will come through it virtually unscathed. Terrible things happen to people every day and, in the grand scheme of things, this theft is merely a blip. An expensive, annoying, waste of time blip, but a nothing all the same. Things can be replaced. People can not. We can choose to be mired down by the bad things that happen to us or we can choose to move on. I’m very glad we didn’t let the bad guys ruin our plans. Life goes on. Their are still lots of good people in the world and we chosen to try and focus on that. The lovely folks at Quicksilver in Downtown Disney started that ball rolling by giving Daddy and you the (completely made up) “you had your luggage stolen discount” on your new bathing suits. It was a small thing but it really made us smile. Customers for life!

S*^@ happens and you have to work to not let it change you. Don’t get me wrong, if I saw the SOB that took our stuff I’d be pretty fired up, but I’m not going to waste any more time than I already have to devoted to his actions. Karma, as they say, is a bitch and if it turns out it’s not me she’s after, I hope she takes a real crack at him.

I love you baby.

xo Mom

photo 4

* For the record this is the third time in two years our car has been broken into in our driveway.

The Spirit of the Season

After my last post I was determined to say something funny and light. I’ve become aware that when I write about not feeling well it makes people (especially those closest to me) slightly melancholy and I was hoping to give my nearest and dearest a bit of a break as the year begins anew. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is, my health leading up to the holidays was a real struggle so, despite my best intentions for humor, I think the sincerest post I can commit to is what I learned over the past month while I was so sick. For those of you who find these types of posts upsetting, stick with me, I am infinitely better now and in many ways I would say my recent weakness has only changed me for the better.

———

Dear Loch,

When you were five, I planned a trip to the mountains for Thanksgiving that went completely awry. Unable to breathe on my own we spent 12 hours in our rented condo before abandoning our trip to come back down the mountain. Unfortunately, my declining health didn’t stop at sea level and for the next three weeks I struggled to breathe without the help of oxygen and complete even the most minimal of tasks on my own. Not since I was first diagnosed was my life uprooted in such a tangible way, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so afraid and angry. Your Dad did everything he could, staying home from work, shuffling me from doctor to doctor, taking care of all the things I usually handle. But, he is only one man and he can’t be everywhere at once or miss work indefinitely. We needed help.

fotoninja.nlWhen people discover I’m sick, they often say things like, “Well, if there’s every anything I can do…”. It’s a lovely sentiment and I sincerely appreciate it but my standard response is always something like, “Thank you. That’s really kind. Hopefully I’ll never need to take you up on that offer.”  If I’m being honest though, the truth of the matter is, I don’t want anyone’s help. Up until recently I found the whole idea of taking someone’s help rather distasteful. I’m a busy and efficient A-type person and I pride myself on my ability to get s*#@ done. It’s part of my self worth. To accept help would mean I needed help, which, on some level, diminishes me. It makes me feel needy and broken. Though offers came from genuine, altruistic places, the thought of taking people up on them made me feel like a failure as well as shining a big, glaring light on the one thing I was trying hardest to ignore: the fact that I was sick.

pinterest.comI don’t want to be sick so, I pretend I’m not. I realize it’s a little ostrich-y but I try incredibly hard to keep life as close to what it was before my diagnosis as possible. I fight reality tooth and nail in a wayward attempt to hold on to my pre-illness identity. It’s incredibly important to me. So, while I may smile and agree to the idea of taking help if need be, internally I feel like…Nope, I got this. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.

Up until recently only the very closest people in my life have seen the toll my illness takes on me. Not even my mother knows the extent of the strain. Your Dad is the only witness to my weakest of moments, my outbursts and rages, most of which seem to come in the middle of the night. It has always been important to me that I appear normal to the outside world. Better than normal. Great. Pulled together. Highly functioning. I don’t want to be judged or liked, written off or underestimated, based on my illness. I want people to see me, not the potential ticking clock.

We’ve had people reach out to us in the past. The kindness and generosity of some of our friends has truly humbled me. But what happened in the weeks leading up to Christmas struck me on a completely different level. I was so sick, so weak, so disturbingly incapable of taking care of myself I had to let go. I had to stop holding so tight to the wishes of my ego and take the help being offered to us with grace. I had to accept that I needed assistance on the most basic of levels – help driving my child to school and taking care of him after, help making meals, help going to the flippin’ grocery store. I couldn’t do anything on my own and for as many times as I’ve said “No Thank you” over the past years, I said “Thank you” over the past weeks, and it was a completely humbling experience.

bottomTo benevolently offer to help someone without thought for yourself and frankly, at an inconvenience to you, is practically unheard of these days. Our closest friends in Los Angeles rallied around us. They joined something called “Meal Train” which allowed them to sign up for duties on a shared calendar and communicate via email. They kindly left me out of the loop because it quickly became obvious that even the simplest of questions like, “How do you feel about chicken for Thursday night?” had me gut reacting with statements like, “Don’t worry about it. Please don’t anything. I’m ok.” So, they just stopped asking me. The whole experience was unbelievable. My friend’s cleaning lady showed up at my house. Groceries were on my back door. Meals were in my fridge. My child was happy and busy with playdates and dinners. These wonderful people took over the reigns of my life so I could rest and get better. I was beyond touched and grateful but I honestly struggled with how to properly respond. I had no point of reference for this type of support, this level of kindness.

Truthfully, I panicked. What if this was my new life? What if these amazing people, who were being so kind now, ultimately saw me as a burden? I couldn’t possibly or sufficiently thank them enough. I felt as if I would “owe” everyone for life and never be able to deliver. I worried my needs upset the balance of our relationship. I felt “less than” myself, as if I was no longer a peer or an equal but someone beneath them. A charity case rather than a friend and as I started to feel better, I wanted to jump right back into my life. I wanted to stop the help machine. I wanted to go back to normal but I was convinced not to. With all the understanding they could muster, your Dad and Granny told me slipping right back into my life full speed was going to be a mistake. That my friends were helping in good faith and I should accept it with the same respect in which it was intended. They believed the best thing I could do for everyone who was going so far out of their way to help was to get well – really,truly well. Taking care of my family on my own would come. My friends weren’t doing so much just so I could get sick again. They weren’t planning to lord their compassion over me. They weren’t looking for endless, groveling thanks. They were supporting me because they liked me and wanted to see me well. As Sean said, “If it was one of them, wouldn’t you do the same?”

thegreeeneyedladyblog.com

thegreeeneyedladyblog.com

The answer was a resounding yes. Yes, of course I would. I wouldn’t help someone to make them feel weak or small or to get kudos or presents. I would lend a hand because I could and I would do it without question. I had to learn to take help the same way.

Once I stopped fighting it was astonishing how the experience opened up my heart. It was extraordinary to be the recipient of such an outpouring of love. To accept that was ok to need people. To embrace the fact I wasn’t able to do it all and allow so many people come together to assist us. The experience humbled me in a way I could never have expected. Instead of making me feel weaker I felt stronger. I came out of the situation feeling I could (and should) do more to help others. People being kind and gracious to me inspired me to be kind and gracious to others. I suppose that’s why the concept of “paying it forward” works. If someone is good to you, it incites you to be good to others. The truth of the matter is, NONE of us can do it all on our own, and when we truly accept and embrace that, the world has the potential to become a much better place.

helenkellerquoteLook around in your life baby. Offer to help those who might need it and graciously accept relief when it’s offered to you. Help is not just for people who are sick, it’s for anyone that could use a little lift or love. It’s not lost on me that this entire experience happened at the time of year when we’re supposed to be looking out for our fellow man. The period of time when goodness and compassion come back in style. “So this is Christmas, and what have you done….”

My friends didn’t help me because they wanted to feel they’d done charity before the holidays.  They helped me because they thought I needed them, and I let them because they were right. The same circumstances could have occurred in April or July and I believe they would have done exactly the same thing. It’s just that with the overlapping of this time of year I feel just a bit more encouraged for the state of the world. That for all the selfish, me first behavior we see every day, there are still people are innately good, who look out for one another, who treat others as they would be treated, and that, my love, gives me hope.

Look out for others Loch, and let others look out for you. In a world that’s become so increasingly insular, it’s important we realize how very much we are all still connected.

From my heart to yours,

xo your mommy

earlymama.com

earlymama.com

Bullying

Dear Loch,

Recently the older brother of one of your friends was experiencing some bullying at school. It’s a hard thing to avoid, even in a school as small as yours, where the parents all know each other and the kids have been taught the virtues of kindness and compassion from kindergarden. Perhaps it’s just part of being a kid, something to try on and see how it fits. It made me think of comedian Louis CK’s recent point about not buying cell phones for his daughters. He felt the technology made it all too easy to disconnect from the truth of the real world. If you are cruel to someone in person, you witness first hand how they feel and, how making them feel that way effects you. For the most part it’s not a great feeling for either person. But, when you do it online, silently typing cruel things into a smart phone and pressing send, there is no such bounce back. No moment where you see how your behavior has affected another and, therefore, much less self realization for the bully. Without the emotional fallout to witness, mean for the sake of mean might feel pretty good.

feminspire.com

feminspire.com

Sidebar: Cyber bullying is a new world for me. We didn’t have smart phones and the internet when I was young and from everything from bullying to dating, I think my generation dodged a big bullet. You, on the other hand have a whole new sphere of ways to hurt one another and people are using it with gusto. You have to be hyper conscious about what you post, who you tag, what you say and what you forward. You shouldn’t share your password with anyone (except your parents) and you have to think, almost more so than you would when you speak, how something you say might be perceived. Those words are never going away. Anything you post will ALWAYS be out there.  Look, it’s easy to be mean but it’s base. It’s not clever or charming and it won’t win you friends or impress anyone worth impressing. It’s a cheap, shallow way to connect with people and you have to work every day of your life to rise above it. 

hhd.psu.edu

hhd.psu.edu

Anyway, this boy at your school was experiencing a lot of taunting. He’d even received threats of bodily harm and as a result had engaged in the occasional physical tussle. By the time I was talking with him he was understandably worn out and angry. The thing is he’s not alone. The girls in your class were recently sat down and talked to about kindness and fair behavior. It seemed there had already been some issues of bullying amongst them (sadly not surprising for girls) and the teachers were looking to nip it in the bud. I’d like to say I’m shocked. Bullying at 5 and 6?! That’s outrageous!! But I’m not. I was bullied mercilessly from age 7 through 9, again at camp from 10-12, the majority of my 8th grade year and then again in the 12th grade.

Bullying happens all the time, to all kinds of people, and it can be at any stage of your life. You can be bullied by your boss, your girlfriend, a frenemy, a colleague. Bullying is everywhere and, at some point in your life, you will have to deal with it. At the end of the day bullying is a misuse of power, a behavior that belongs in the arsenal of the weak. The bully might appear to be dominant but it’s a weak character that chooses this behavior. A truly confident person has no need to belittle or destroy. Only the small have to stand on others in order to feel big.

Bullying-LockersLooking at the size of you I don’t think people will target you for physical bullying. But, mentally, you are kind and sweet and sensitive and that’s probably going to cause you some issues. I wouldn’t want you to be different. I just think we need to be aware of what being the “good guy” sometimes entails. Your Dad was bullied for being a red head but he was also picked on for being kind to the special needs girl at his school. You can’t win, you just have to deal. Recently you were in tears when a 2nd grader, who’s half your size by the way, was mean to you. Part of me wanted to tell you to punt that twerp across the campus but, even in the heat of the moment, I knew that was terrible advice. Yes, you could exert your size for dominance but that’s no way to handle your problems and frankly, I don’t want you to think that way. I don’t want you physically, or metaphorically, throwing your weight around. I think the best way to use physicality to our advantage is by simply owning our space without apology, and I believe that’s possible whether you’re big or small. Emmenating a grounded sense of self – both physically and mentally – will make you less of a target.

I wish I could say this applied to all bullies, but it doesn’t. Self worth and confidence have a way of attracting a different type of aggressor, the kind that would rather break your confidence mentally than your bones physically. If you find yourself on the receiving end of this type of action – because you sure as hell better not be on the delivery end – all I can say is hold on. Be grounded in your sense of self and wait it out. It’s a tremendous acting exercise. You can feel devastated and destroyed inside. You can want to cry, give up or lash out, but if you want it to stop you have to appear strong in public. Come home and unload but don’t allow “them” the satisfaction of seeing you hurt. I promise the situation will eventually pass but you want to feel confident that, as far as anybody knows, you handled it with nothing but strength and pride.

damienestreich.com

damienestreich.com

I know from personal experience how hard this kind of bullying can be to handle. How painful it is. How sometimes you’d just prefer to be punched in the face then deal with one more day of someone trying to break you. I know what a toll it takes on your confidence but you have to keep reminding yourself THE BULLIES CAN’T WIN. You have to be stronger than them. No one should make choices for you. No one is allowed to tell you how to feel about yourself or dictate your actions. They can’t defeat you unless you let them, and lest you think you’re all alone you’re not. Bullies have been around forever and personally, I believe life has a way of catching up with them. Whether your bully ends up with no real friends or honest relationships, whether they’re unable to love fully or truly be happy, weak minded, small, petty people pay for it in the end. I know that’s not much to hold on to when you’re in the thick of it, but knowing that fact somewhere in the back of your head might allow you to suck it up for just one more day. There are too many kids who felt they’d rather end it than live with the pain of the bullying anymore. This. Should. Not. Be. We can’t allow ourselves to live in the world the bully creates. We must try with all we have to rise above. Life is too wonderful and precious to forfeit to exhaustion.

funylool.com

funylool.com

It’s possible as a strong willed, popular guy you’re not going to have to deal with this s*^@, but it’s unlikely. The weak are the frequent victims but the strong are repeatedly targeted for threatening the status quo. Look at Obama. That man’s been bullied for the past 6 years and he’s the leader of the free world. No one is immune and you can’t stop it. All you can do is be strong enough of character to remain the best version of yourself without apology. And if it’s not you who’s being bullied? Is it ok to turn a blind eye lest risk having the bully turn on you? No. It’s not. I lost my entire group of “friends” for standing up for someone else but, even knowing how that played out, I wouldn’t change giving a voice to someone who didn’t. The only thing I should have done differently was go to a teacher first rather than publicly engaging the tormenter head on. It wasn’t the smartest move. But, hindsight’s 20/20 right? The bottom line is you can’t call yourself a good person if you’re able to sit idly by while someone else is getting hurt. You need to know what behavior is appropriate and stick to it no matter what anyone else is doing.

I don’t envy you this stage in your life. It can be tough but, it can also be liberating. It’s the time when you start realizing what you’re made of, who you are, and building the sense of pride and self worth that can last a lifetime. You are a good person Loch. You’re kind and noble and loving. Have enough faith in yourself to rise above the noise. Don’t let anybody change the spectacular person you are becoming.

Love you forever.

xo Mom

thekostory.com

I know I’m the adult here but…really?!

Dear Loch,

You wrote a song recently. Your Dad was away for the weekend and we had his car so you were right beside me when you started singing. The song went like this:

I love my Mom. I love my Mom. I love my Mom. But I love my Dad more.

I was in the middle of saying, “Oh, honey I love this song…” when that last line came and I felt as if I’d been doused in water.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now. I know you love me. You need me for chats and fears and snuggles and hurts but, for the last six months I’ve played second fiddle to anything your Dad. I get it. Your Dad works a lot. He’s busy. You don’t get to spend as much time with him, so your time together is special. Combine that with the fact that he’s 100% yours when he is around – full of exciting role playing games, outdoor adventures and full fledged wrestling matches – and your Dad’s a God. He doesn’t drag you around doing errands. He defeats giant underground worms, builds forts that take up entire rooms and fashions elaborate creations out of legos. Your Dad’s the man. I’m just the Mom.

photo 2In contrast to the rare and special times the two of you spend together, you see me every single day. Intellectually I can comprehend why you’re sick of me. I’m old news. It’s natural to take the thing you’re most confident in for granted. I suppose I should take it as a sign I’ve done something right. But, it’s hard not to feel under appreciated and, if I’m being honest, hurt.

Your Dad and I have different strengths. He’s able to meet your childhood energy and I’m not. He’s available for brief stints and I’m around all the time. He does the fun stuff, I do the necessary stuff and we’re both well suited to our jobs. When it comes right down to it, he’s dessert and I’m the vegetable, and we all know how kids feel about their vegetables. You don’t care that I spent two years inundated with essays and applications to get you in to just the right school. It doesn’t register with you that I buy all the presents or ensure the house never runs out of food or toilet paper. You’re not interested in who makes your bed or buys your clothes. You’re aware that people like you but not how much of that is due to the fact that we’ve worked so hard together  on your manners and attitude. Your Daddy is the shining star and I have bad breath in the morning. You once told me, “Daddy is the King. I’m the Prince, and you’re the maid.” I asked you to leave my room.

I'm a bit of a background player in your life these days.

I’m a bit of a background player in your life these days.

Being taken for granted, marginalized or discredited hurts no matter who does it. I know I’m the adult. I realize I should have the capacity to rise above my sore feelings. For goodness sakes you’re five and I’m the one who needs to grow up! But when you tell me after a three hour playdate at a friend’s house it would’ve been more fun if I wasn’t there, or I ask if you had a good time at the Aquarium and you tell me it would have been better if I was Daddy, I want to cry. I also want to scream, “You know what kid? I had other things to do today too you know! It would have been better for me if Daddy was there too!” Of course I’m happy doing things with you. I love spending time together. I know you’re starting Kindergarden is the beginning of the end of our extended one-on-one relationship, and I’m thrilled I was able to be there for so much of it, but I was a fully realized person before you were born and as much as I’m honored to have played such a big part in your childhood, I put a lot of myself on hold to do it, and your complete dismissal of my contribution makes me sad.

photo 1 copyI’m sensitive. You say hurtful things and I get hurt. My face gets screwed up. I look at you and say, “that was mean” or “Loch, how d’you think your saying that makes me feel?” I suppose it’s better you learn from me how much words can hurt rather than discovering it after you say something thoughtless to a friend, but it doesn’t make it feel any better. You’ve actually taken to apologizing lately without any prompting. It’s as if you’ve learned to recognize from my reactive body language that you’ve done something unkind. This summer when we were walking around Disney you said,  “I like you this much (indicating a bench mark with your hand) and I like Daddy this much (indicating a higher mark). Sometimes you’re here (meeting Dad’s high level) but most of the time you’re here (back to my original lower position)”. You followed that comment directly with a quick “Sorry Mommy. Sorry, sorry. I love you both the same!” but I got your message. At this point I’ve learned to bite my tongue and say something like “I understand Loch. Your Dad is very special and you love him very much”, but that doesn’t mean I don’t do it with a big sigh in my heart.

photo copy 2The reality is you appreciate things more when you don’t have them all the time (that, and your Dad rocks) but it’s hard for me to think of the future without worrying if I’ll be around or not, and when you say things like you wish you wasn’t here, it breaks my heart. Sometimes all I can hear when you say that sort of things is, “Well, you might get your wish…” and that scares me. As I said when I started this whole process, I want to be around as long as I can and I hope you always feel confident enough to take my presence for granted, but it’s something I can’t guarantee. Recently I wasn’t feeling very well and you were so mean to me. I couldn’t do anything right. It was as if you were punishing me for being sick. It made you mad. I’m sure what you were really feeling was nervous, but anger was your way of processing the fear.

I understand as annoying as this behavior is, it’s also very normal. I’m a grown woman and I know my parents would still love it if I called them more. I have to remind myself constantly to make sure I actively acknowledge how much I appreciate your Dad. It’s all too easy to take those we count on most and love the deepest for granted. I don’t take care of you for credit. It just stings to be discredited. But I’ll take that feeling any day over the alternative. I’d rather you not know what you have than be aware of what you’re missing.

So go ahead. Dole it out. I can take it. I know you love me and, no matter where life takes us, I hope you always know that I love you.

xoxo Mommy

photo copy

A for Effort

Dear Lochie,

Recently we were sitting together while you made a card for your friend’s birthday. You drew a half hearted picture on the front (red stick figure Iron Man turned into Ice Man after you scribbled blue on it) and we worked together on the words inside. There’s no other way to put it, you were phoning it in. You weren’t concentrating. Every letter was a different size. You asked me to repeat myself over and over and I was doing my best to be supportive despite the fact I knew you could do better. There’s a fine line between encouraging you and discouraging you and I was trying not to cross it. So, when you made an M instead of an N in your friend’s name, I helped you fix it. I didn’t lose it. I didn’t say, “if you were paying attention…”. I stayed calm and helpful. However, 10 minutes later, when we finally got to the sign off, Your Pal, and you wrote YOUR PAE because you were completely unfocused it bothered me. There was no way for me to turn an E into an L and with one mistake already on the page the only choice was to start again. I have to admit, it made me crabby. I took away the card, folded another piece of paper and we began for the second time. However, this time when you wrote an R instead of a P in Happy and looked at me with this lazy, little “oops, oh well, who cares” face, I lost it. I picked the card up off the table and ripped it in half.

bubblews.com

bubblews.com

It wasn’t my finest moment. I find it infuriating when people do subpar work out of sheer laziness, but watching my own child do it made me doubly nuts. Look, I have no desire to be a Tiger Mom. For example, I’m perfectly happy with the fact that, despite your gender, you seem to have no interest in competitive sports. You don’t want to play soccer or baseball. You aren’t interested in riding a bike. You don’t scooter. You don’t do the monkey bars. That’s all ok with me. I get it. You haven’t found your jam. You love swimming. You like skiing. You like costumes and acting and dance. You’ll find your place. I’m not worried or pushing you to do what you’re not interested in. I want you to be you, whoever you turns out to be. But…I want you to be the best version of you, and that lazy, unfocused kid I was hanging out with was not it.

Frankly, I don’t think I was too horrendous. You hadn’t drawn the picture yet, it was just 3 letters (2 right, 1 wrong) drawn on a piece of paper in the shape of a card, but you were pretty shocked when I ripped it. I’m embarrassed to say you started to cry. It made me feel awful. Your mother shouldn’t make you cry and it was a horrible feeling for both of us. I told you if you wanted to take some time in your room you could and, a couple minutes later, I joined you for a talk.

vi.sualize.us

vi.sualize.us

You told me you were mad at me and I understood. You said, “You ripped my card” and I said, “I did. I’m sorry.” Then I asked if you understood why I’d done it, and you said, “because I made the wrong letter”. That devastated me. I don’t want you to EVER feel you can’t make a mistake around me. That I’m going to be mad or cruel if you’re anything less than perfect. That’s not how a mom should make you feel and said as much to you. I said, “Lochie, you can make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. That’s ok. What’s not ok is being lazy. Not doing your best because you can’t be bothered. If you’re doing something, working on something, trying something, always do the best you can. There’s no other way to do things. The world is full of people who don’t try very hard, but that’s not who you are. That’s not how our family is. That’s not good enough.” Then we talked about your Dad (who you worship) and how he works a lot. I explained that when your Dad works he works at 100%. He does the very best he can and sometimes the very best takes longer, but when he’s done he knows there’s nothing else he can do to make whatever he’s working on better, and that’s the only way to approach things.

label on picYou’re going to want things in life Lochie. You’re going to dream of them, and hope for them, but you’re also going to have to work for them. It’s an aggressive, competitive world and the people who rise to the top are those who aren’t afraid of hard work, those who are willing to put in the effort for the things they want. I realize working on your friend’s birthday card and having your future career where you want it are not the same thing, but it’s my job to teach you the skills that’ll help you when you get to that level. It’s my job to push you. Not in a way that makes you unhappy ,but in a way that makes you accountable. So one day, when you’re on your own in college or the job market, and someone gives you an assignment or you want something from your life, you go after it at 100%. I want you to grow into a man who’s natural reaction is to do his best so you never have to force yourself to work harder because that’s the only way you know how to work.

keyposters.com

keyposters.com

I don’t say this to pressure you. I want you to be happy. Whatever you choose to do in this life – work, play, love – do it at the highest level. Whatever job you decide to pursue – Doctor, DJ, Actor, Politician – pursue it as hard as you can. Those kind of choices may seem far off now, but when you’re there I hope you’ll be grateful I encouraged you think like this way back when.

After our talk we went to the playroom together to do the card again. This time you did it with such focus and concentration it broke my heart. The finished product was amazing. Detailed personalized picture. Same size letters each on their own line. Plenty of color and creativity. We even added stickers. I complimented you on it and you looked so proud. Then I held up your first card beside the new one and asked how you thought they compared. You smiled and said, “This one is much better”. I agreed and asked why you thought so. You looked at me very seriously and said, “Because I tried with this one”.

Always try baby. Always do your best. In School. In Love. In Life. Doing the minimum and just skating by isn’t enough. You’ll always wonder what could have happened if you’d tried just a little harder. Don’t take that chance. If you’ve done all you can and put your best foot forward on all counts, then any dream you have will always be in reach. Isn’t that worth the energy?

As they say, make an effort, not an excuse.

I love you.

xo Mommy

fasstperformance.com

fasstperformance.com

It’s What’s Inside that Counts

Dear Loch,

Recently I started to notice how often we discuss your looks. You’re a really cute kid and I realize it’s become a sort of habit to constantly comment on the fact. With that in mind, I started to wonder whether I was guilty of placing too much emphasis on your appearance, as if it was a quality of character rather than something you’ve just been blessed with. I recently came across an article by Latina Fatale that addressed this issue in reference to young girls and how often we try to connect with them based on their appearance – “Aren’t you adorable.” “Look at your pretty dress.” “You have the most gorgeous hair.” – as if their aesthetic was the only thing worthy of note. I found the article thought provoking and it occurred to me that perhaps it was something that might also be happening with you.

I realize boys, by nature, are not defined by their looks the way girls are. They aren’t judged or commodified in the same way. You won’t go through life trying to live up to the same beauty ideal or struggle with the same body issues women do, but modern men are under more scrutiny than ever before. In the past 20 years I’ve watched the men’s section of drug and department stores increase exponentially. There’s manscaping and body envy and more products than ever before, and though I believe you will never reach the level of self improvement/self loathing women deal with (freaking out over bathing suit season or constantly fighting the uphill battle to hold onto your youth) modern man is no longer removed from the pressure and insecurities that surround appearance.

Lochlan_McGowan-216-PrintThe problem (and I realize it’s a champagne one) is that so far your looks have garnered you a fair amount of attention and caused people (myself included) to make constant reference to them. Look, I love fashion, I love beautiful things, and since I have little money to dress myself or design our home how I’d like, I get my aesthetic kicks dressing you. So far you could care less what you wear so I’m able to doll you up without complaint. The end result being that you look adorable, people mention it and we both feel proud. I’ve started to wonder however, that even if I continue to dress you like an winsome, little prepster, if I shouldn’t be making a more concerted effort to shift my remarks to better celebrate your qualities of worth rather than appearance.

Baby, you’re cute. Your face slays me. That smattering of freckles across your nose. Your gorgeous auburn hair that shines red in the sun. That adorable, little upturned nose. You’re something else kid, but I think it’s time for me to take a break from mentioning it so much. You were signed by FORD Models at 4-years old for Pete sakes. People pay you to be cute and you’re getting to the age where, if I’m not careful, you could develop the very unattractive quality of vanity and I’ll serve you best if I help you avoid it.

DSC_0240With this goal in hand I devised a game for us to play that would sort out the qualities on which we should focus to ensure we were good people, and what qualities were simply nice byproducts achieved simply by luck. After collecting rocks together on the beach at the cottage I painted them with 5 qualities I deemed important and one extra to represent looks. Ultimately I was looking for a tangible way to express that even though being attractive is nice, at the end of the day it belongs at the bottom of the list. The qualities I included were:

KIND: Someone who looks out for other people (includes: thoughtful, loving, giving)

Ask yourself: Am I a good person?

SMART: Someone who uses their mind to better themselves and others (includes: ingenuity, cleverness)

Ask yourself: Am I an intelligent person?

CONFIDENCE: Someone with a justifiable faith in themselves and their talents. Not afraid to try new things or forge their own path. (includes: ambition)

Ask yourself: Do I believe in myself?

STRENGTH: Someone who has the ability and courage to deal with adversity. (includes: perseverance)

Ask yourself: Can I handle it when things don’t go my way?

HONOR: Someone with humility, honesty, and good manners. (includes: being a gentleman)

Ask yourself: Do people trust me?

APPEARANCE: Someone attractive.

Ask yourself: Am I good looking?

DSC_0243When the stones were ready I laid them out in front of you and we talked about what each one meant. To your credit you were attentive and engaged and took the exercise very seriously. When I was finished explaining I asked you to put the qualities into their order of importance. You were very conscientious taking your time deciding as you put the rocks in order beside you. This was the order you chose:

KIND, CONFIDENCE, SMART, STRENGTH, HONOR

You left ATTRACTIVE off the list.

DSC_0244Though I know this is just the beginning of a far deeper and more intense conversation, it felt like a great beginning for both of us to understand what the most important things are for being (and raising) a person. What’s qualities are key and what are not.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of taking pride in your appearance. I believe it’s a sign of confidence. I think it shows you have a strong sense of self awareness and a healthy dose of self worth. Taking care of yourself is a good thing. Having a good body shows you’re healthy, value exercise and good eating habits. Nice hair and skin reflect good grooming and illustrate your self respect. Dressing well proves you’re willing to make an effort to present yourself properly to the world. These are all worthy endeavors. I’m just trying to help you understand that all the attention we pay to our outer shell, though important, is essentially irrelevant when it comes to being a Quality Person.

DSC_0245Our culture worships beauty and youth and people deemed attractive by our society would be hard pressed to convince you their looks didn’t have value or hadn’t played some part in acquiring them something of desire. At the end of the day people like attractive people and if looks didn’t matter, we wouldn’t work so hard to hold onto them.  Attractiveness is a tangible quality. Terrible behavior is often forgiven based solely on the perpetrator’s looks. Attractiveness is not worthless, it just holds no weight to who you are as a person. Beautiful packaging sells many a product but it doesn’t make the product good. It’s the difference between a beautiful, ornately decorated cake made with way too much salt and a plain cake made to perfection. Which one would you choose to eat?

DSC_0249Lochie, God willing you’ll always be attractive. It’s a nice way to go though life. But as we move forward together, I want you to know there are so many other qualities I value above your appearance. Who you are will always be more important that how you look, especially if how you look is the first thing everyone notices.

Be kind, be confident, be strong, be wise, be trusted and know, above all, you will always be loved.

xo mommy

DSC_0248

When Polite Becomes a Problem

Dear Lochie,

I’ve spoken about Manners before, about what kind of behavior I expect from you and what kind of boy I want you to be, but I feel the need to tell you that there will be times when getting caught up in manners or “being polite” can hold you back, disappoint you or even put you in awkward or unsafe situations and, at those times, I give you full permission to courteously put your well being above your social graces. There is such a thing as being too nice. Bosses will pile work on you. People will take advantage of you. You’ll stay in relationships too long or miss opportunities waiting for someone to give you the go ahead. Though remembering you’re part of a bigger human picture and acting accordingly is key (the world is not all about you), you must also be aware that no one will look out for you better than yourself. You are your own champion, protector and catalyst. It’s up to you to take care of you. In the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the villain talks at length about how frequently people put themselves in danger rather than risk being impolite. He questions why people don’t trust their instincts and allow their fear of offending to outweigh any other concerns. Statistically I’m sure women do this more than men as we’re predisposed to be perceived as “nice” and more readily inclined to be “pleasers”, but you should be aware this kind of situation could also happen to you. I often wonder how many people are victims of crimes when they were just trying to be nice? How many people put themselves in uncomfortable situations rather than chance insulting someone? How many of us put up with things we hate just to appear agreeable? Look, nice is wonderful, it’s a lovely, hopeful way to behave, but be mindful it has a flip side that can allow people to take advantage of you and that goes from everything from violent crimes to crappy hotel rooms.

marsheating.socialtract.com

marsheating.socialtract.com

Felonies aside, I want you to be aware of the possibly negative results when you put “nice” and “polite” above all. Having and using courtesy is something I’ll always encourage but your well being takes precedence over other people’s “feelings”. It’s not impolite to respect yourself enough to speak up for what you need. It’s not rude to put your safety and well being first. The difference between being nice and being taken advantage of is measured by how you feel. Do you feel good about yourself, respected and well liked, or do you feel put upon, overlooked and marginalized? Paying the check for your friends is nice. Being expected to do it every time is insulting. If you’re confident in your worth you won’t allow yourself to be undersold.

I recently tried out a new acupuncturist. She was a Chinese national and didn’t speak much English but, unlike with customer service operators, I was ok with that. Plus, she took my insurance so I was willing to give her a go. As she read my intake form I started to get the impression she was in over her head. I have a pretty rare disease even for someone with a medical degree and English as a first language but, I didn’t want to discredit or undermine what could be her vast array of skills, so I waited while she read. After a short while she seemed to realize I was still there so she strapped a blood pressure cuff to me as she continued reading. Now, I’ve had my blood pressure taken a lot, both at my doctor’s office and at home, so I’m extremely familiar with the procedure. I know how it feels, how much time it takes, how tight it gets. This machine however was taking an extraordinarily long time and only continued to get tighter. As the pressure went from uncomfortable to painful I kept thinking it was going to stop. That it would hit the sweet spot, register and loosen up. It was hurting me but I didn’t want to say anything. I suppose I didn’t want to bother her. As it moved from painful to alarming, my desire to be perceived favorably was superseded by my unequivocal need to get the horrible thing off. The scene played out a little like this:

bpa.co.uk

bpa.co.uk

Tight, grimace.

Tighter, look at her for guidance.

Tighter, (to self) Suck it up. Suck it up. It’s almost over.

Tighter, “Ow, ow, ow!”

Tighter, (actively ripping the cuff off my arm) “OW! OW!”

When I finally got the Velcro undone I found a whole chunk of skin had been pulled through the metal loop of the cuff. It was just sticking out as if it was extra waiting to be cut off. I actually had to physically extricate my arm from the cuff by manually pushing my now obviously bruised skin back through the loop. It was horrible and I was furious, but instead of getting up and storming out like I wanted, saying something like “This isn’t going to work. Sorry.” (I hardly wanted someone sticking pins into me who couldn’t use a blood pressure cuff), I just sat there sore and sad.

I may as well have left because 10 minutes later when she asked “How do you know you’re actually sick? Because a doctor told you so…” with a skepticism that implied I might somehow be working with western medicine to create an imaginary issue, I ended up walking out anyway. It was too much. I had tried to be polite, but I couldn’t take it and my need to protect usurped my need to ingratiate.

blogs.telegraph.co.uk

blogs.telegraph.co.uk

I’ve had to advocate for myself more than most because as a sick person you quickly find if you aren’t looking out for your best interest few will. Too many things of too high an importance can fall through the cracks if you aren’t paying attention. Over the past five years I’ve learned to ask the questions, get the second opinion, double check the concerns and I’ve found that nothing is insignificant. Even the most minutia of details, like people who seem unsure when they’re about to draw my blood, matter and I’m not embarrassed to ask for someone else. I’ve become adamant about finding “‘the absolute best person for putting in a central line” because I’ve had too many hideous experiences to go through another one unnecessarily. Not everyone in the medical community is created equal and as my mother always says, “They didn’t all graduate top of their class”. If you don’t ask you’re just as likely to have a grossly swollen arm than a comfortable port. I realize people need to train on someone. I’ve just been around the block too many times to let it be me.

This is a view from a room at a top boutique hotel in NYC.  You don't have to say yes to this room. It's ok to ask for something different.

This is a view from a room at a top boutique hotel in NYC. You don’t have to say yes to this room. It’s ok to ask for something different.

As parents we’re great advocates for our children. If they aren’t getting enough time on the soccer field or we feel they’re being passed over for opportunities in school, we’re in there trying to sort it out, but if a similar oversight happens to us, all too often we’ll suck it up rather than risk being perceived as jerks or, heaven forbid, high maintenance. You must understand, it’s not high maintenance to know what you want and ask for it, it’s proactive, and more people should do it unapologetically. Speaking up for yourself does not equal rude. When I was younger I remember traumatizing my friends by letting waiters know something wasn’t right. They were always “soooo embarrassed” but I saw no issue with expressing myself. There’s complaining for the sake of complaining, sending meals back and generally just being churlish and snotty and then there’s replacing your recommended wine because you hate it or sending back a margarita because the bartender rimmed it in celery salt like a Bloody Mary. It’s perfectly reasonable to have things sorted out. It makes a tremendous difference to your enjoyment and I’m confident it’s completely acceptable behavior provided you handle the situation with class and civility. Putting up with something subpar just to avoid making waves doesn’t make you polite it makes you wussy. You may as well get what you want. Just be sure to acknowledge the effort in both tip and attitude.

doormat1

I kicked myself recently for not taking my own advice. Your Dad and I went to restaurant and our meals were so unpleasant we could barely get them down. If I’d made that chicken at home it would have been tossed but, aside from letting our waiter know we were disappointed, we continued to pick at our meals and ended up leaving the annoyed. It’s incredibly irritating to pay a fortune for dinner just to go home and eat cereal. The restaurant offered us a free dessert for our “troubles” but we didn’t take them up on it. It wasn’t about getting something we didn’t want for free, it was about getting what we wanted correct and we should have dealt with that. Ultimately, we just wrote off the restaurant and that’s unfortunate. We always liked it there and I’m sure they would have preferred making us new dinners over losing long term customers, but now we’ll never know.

It’s too easy to be taken advantage of these days. You can’t just assume the right thing will happen. Often, you have to insist on it. Sadly we live in a time where you also have to protect yourself more. Where your manners take a backseat to your safety. Your Dad and I sell a lot of stuff on Craigslist but with the recent situation of the husband and father who was killed when he took two men for a test drive of the truck he was selling on Kijiji, you can’t just assume people have good intentions anymore. In certain situations being distrustful and coming off cold is preferable to allowing friendly or trusting behavior get you in trouble. This isn’t to say you should walk around being an a*#hole and calling it protection, just that awareness is key.

stepstothesky.com

stepstothesky.com

Look, being a nice person is wonderful. People should think you’re nice. You should be nice. I’m not saying don’t take the time to help old people across the street or go through life distrustful of everyone, only looking out for “number one”, I’m simply reminding you to use common sense and good judgement, aware of the world you live in and it’s possibilities. Be courteous and respectful, making sure your sense of self worth doesn’t become a sense of entitlement, but don’t forget the only way you’ll ever really get what you want is if you’re ok asking for it. Sometimes the right thing to do, is the right thing for you.

The goal is to be polite, not a patsy.

I love you.

xo your mom

tumblr.com

tumblr.com

Throwing in the Towel

Dear Loch,

How long do you wait before you throw in the towel? How dearly do you hold onto a dream before you accept it’s over and move onto something new? Is there a difference between making the “safe” choice and giving up?

Whether you want a spot on a team, acceptance at a specific University, the love of a particular person or tangible success at a chosen career, these questions will come up again and again. When you’re young it’s easier to move on, to shake it off and find a new dream, challenge or person when your first choice doesn’t work out. One of the beauties of youth is that the stakes are lower and more options are available as you discover who you are, but as you age, these questions become heavier because they refer to a finite and more important collection of things – the direction of your life, your career,  your spouse.  Not making the volleyball team, for example, will be replaced by rethinking how you’ll make a living, and though it’s possible you’ll succeed at everything you put your mind to, never having to deal with disappointment, it’s unlikely. There’s a chance you could choose a stable, clear cut career where hard work equals success but every day those jobs become less and less likely. Even doctors are struggling to make ends meet today. Realistically, I believe there’s a much stronger chance you’ll follow your heart into a career that speaks to you but has less than guaranteed results.

lumbertonpolitics.blogspot.com

lumbertonpolitics.blogspot.com

As your mother I want you to be happy. I hope you follow your dreams and do what it is you want to do. I’m a firm believer in “do what you love and the money will follow” and “choose the career you want and it won’t feel like work” but I’m also a current student in the school of hard knocks and I know first hand how discouraging it feels to live on the periphery of your dreams, to be so close that you can look through the window at the buffet but be starving outside. Your father and I have a wonderful life but it’s not the one we imagine and every day we struggle to rise above the disappointment to hold on until our persistence and hard work finally pays off.

acelebrationofwomen.org

acelebrationofwomen.org

Your Dad is better at this than me. His optimistic attitude serves him well in the world of the arts. As you know, when we met we were both actors. I was part of a successful show moving from NYC to LA and he was a reoccurring role on Star Trek about to be cast as a lead in an ABC pilot. Our dreams were within our grasp. Our time was coming. When I was fired from my show and your Dad’s pilot wasn’t picked up we were disappointed but not discouraged. We understood the business. We were young, talented, hungry. We’d been down before. We’d be up again. There were opportunities ahead and every job brought us one step closer to our goals. When your Dad was cast as the lead in a CBS show just before our wedding it felt right, as if everything had lead up to this. Our life and our choices were finally falling into place. We enjoyed our honeymoon that much more knowing Sean had a full time gig when we got back. When we returned to LA to find his role had been recast by a celebrity it was a big blow to our projected bank account but also to my faith that everything would work out. Just like that we were back to square one and over the next six months I became very discouraged. I was married now. I was 30. I had certain expectations that came with those titles that didn’t match up with my reality. I didn’t want to be a bartender married to a cater waiter. It no longer felt exciting to be a struggling actress. My dream of making a career doing what I loved was drowned out by the noise of my own disappointment. I felt unhappy all the time. I became jealous (and bitter) of other’s opportunities and luck. I had no experience with failure and here I was at the beginning of new decade, the decidedly adult part of my life, unable to look at myself in the mirror without seeing a loser.

bestlifeministries.com

bestlifeministries.com

Your Dad on the other hand was able to let everything slide off his back. He never questioned his career. He was so confident that everything would work out that my uncertainty stood out in contrast. I realized if I was no longer sure of my inevitable success I was in the wrong line of work. Almost every sign in an artistic career points to “you’re not going to make it” and if you start buying into that, it’s the beginning of the end. I was no longer happy. I’d lost track of who I was. I didn’t recognize myself amidst my insecurity. I could have hung on but it wasn’t worth it. I needed a new dream.

Letting go of the idea of being an actress was like saying goodbye to the person I thought I’d be and opening my life to the person I might be. It was heartbreaking but not nearly as painful and difficult as I thought. I missed being happy I wanted to find it again. My biggest problem was I had no idea what to do. My life had been mapped out for years and suddenly I was sailing without direction. It was simultaneously frightening and freeing.

Not knowing what you’re going to do with your life is scary at any age but changing course as a full fledged adult is particularly unnerving. How do you choose wisely without being swayed by your desired lifestyle, your current bills or growing list of dependents? What if you choose poorly and have to start again AGAIN? How do you stack up against your friends? Your contemporaries? How do you not feel embarrassingly left behind? For a while I was able to hid my lack of plan in my pregnancy and early days with you. The value of a stay-at-home mom was legitimate enough to start rebuilding my self worth and temporarily negate the question of what I was doing with my life.

wittytitlehere.com

wittytitlehere.com

When I found my way into writing my life opened up. I finally understood what it meant to work with joy. I felt value in myself I hadn’t in years. I was able to use my skills again, my brain. I found I could write for hours without feeling the least bit burdened. Being an actress was wonderful but with hindsight I saw what I really loved was entertaining people, making them laugh, and I could do that as a writer without the same burdens I felt as an actress. It turned out I was better suited to my fallback career. I like being attractive but resented it as a job requirement. I’m committed to hours of hard work but like a flexible schedule. I want to be a present hands-on mom and I have a tendency to let people know exactly what I’m thinking – a detriment to a young actress but real worth to a writer. The take away being: had I not “failed” at my original plan I never would have discovered the thing that made me happier. That Plan B is ok, provided you aren’t choosing it out of fear.

Now, I threw in the towel and got a whole new life, your Dad refused to do the same yet still found his way to a new passion. Having no desire to give up acting, he realized he also was no longer happy simply trying to afford to keep up his dream. He had a family now and wanted to be a part of his life not just a visitor too busy to enjoy it. At a crossroads he took a leap of faith and opened a production company. Just as my bottom line was to entertain, his was to create, and he realized he needed to make his own opportunities rather than continue to passively wait for them to come along. Instead of abandoning his dream in search of another, he added to it. Which career takes off only time will tell.

kendrickshop.com

kendrickshop.com

Lochlan, I believe your future, and the future of your peers, will be a less traditional route than the past. I think they’ll be less, “I’m going to be a lawyer” and more roundabout discoveries. I believe many of you will forge your own course and find yourself in careers and fields that have yet to be created, and in many ways, I believe your father and my irregular journeys may be of service to you as you navigate those uncertain waters. It won’t be easy but your Dad and I are firm believers that it’s ultimately a mistake to make the “safe” choice. Don’t choose the “sure thing” you don’t care about over the risky thing that would fulfill your dreams. I want you to be responsible, to protect yourself and your family but never feel you have to walk some predetermined path in order to be a success. You must do what fulfills you. You must follow your heart in all things. If you’re no longer happy or want or need things you can’t achieve on your current path, adjust, but never give up because holding on seems too hard. I changed courses and found something I love. Your father held tight to his dream but added to it. Either way we’re better people and parents for liking what we do.

mysignatureblog.com

mysignatureblog.com

The hardest part of an uncertain career is dealing with the disappointment of the wait. The pain of which is only counterbalanced by the happiness you surround yourself with. In our case: family, love, friends and you. If you work to secure all the important things when the rest comes it’ll be gravy. (Gravy your Dad and I are dying for like dried up turkeys, but gravy all the same.) The point is, create a happy life and success – financial or otherwise – will only add to it. Your father and I know plenty of “successful” people who are nowhere near as happy as us and we don’t want that for you, no matter how nice their houses might be. Follow your dreams without fear. Only by being true to yourself can you find real happiness without which success, in itself, is irrelevant.

I can only hope when you’re old enough to read this, our family’s prosperity will render the above advice prolific and inspiring…

Be happy. Make others happy. Carve your own path. Success will eventually follow. I’m counting on it.

Love you forever.

xo Mommy

dale-carnegie-quotes

Bossy Bossy Two Socks

Dear Loch,

Years ago I wrote a children’s book called Bossy Bossy Two Socks.  It’s a book about a little girl who, with all best intentions, spends all her time telling people what to do until eventually she discovers she has no one left to play with. It was an autobiography of sorts, a love letter to the lessons an only child must learn. I started thinking about Bossy Bossy Two Socks again recently and wishing I’d had it published. A: because “author” is a pretty good answer to “What do you do?” and B: because I’d have the book to read to you right now. BB2S is a book you should be reading and having it would allow me a way into a discussion about appropriate behavior. I wouldn’t even tell you I wrote it. Frankly, I think it would mean less if I did.

Standing in hosieryYou’re in a mode. A pressing every button, testing every established rule mode. You talk back and act up and push your luck and, if I hadn’t seen it before I’d be nervous about what was happening to you. The thing is, I have seen it before. Every year around your birthday something like this happens. Overnight you seem to morph from the boy I raised to some unknown, attitude coping child I’m unsure of. When you turned three you started ignoring me. You’d stare right at me as I told you not to do something and do it anyway. You pushed hard against my authority. You even tried to swat me once while I was plugging you into the carseat. I was freaking out. What happened to my perfectly behaved boy? Who was this ruffian with his embarrassingly willful behavior? I brought all my anxiety to your wonderfully and amazingly zen teacher Tammy. I didn’t know what to do. What had I done wrong? What made you think this behavior was ok? Teacher Tammy, in her infinite wisdom, told me not to worry, that this was a normal phase. You were growing up, testing your boundaries and seeing, now that you were older, if the rules still applied. You were looking to me for guidance. You wanted to know what being three meant and I should see it as good and normal behavior even if it appeared the complete opposite. Another mother who overheard our conversation told me when her son turned three he started spitting, everywhere, including on her. She was so appalled that – for the one and only time – she’d slapped his hand. She said she felt like “Where did my child go? Who is this kid?” and I totally understood. Teacher Tammy told us both to relax and accept our job was to calmly and firmly remind our children of the rules. To let them know they may be older but the expectations remained the same. She reminded us that even though it was a trying period, it was a short one that would be outgrown provided we stayed firm, and two weeks later just as predicted, the testing stopped and the boy I knew returned to me.

From this....

From this….

When you turned four the behavioral shift arrived in the form of attitude coping. “Mommy, you don’t know.” “Mommy, you got it wrong.” It was eye rolling/teeth gritting/don’t lose it behavior and just when I’d bent down to eye level to “calmly” talk to you more times than I thought I could possibly handle, overnight your sweet disposition came flooding back. Now, you’re five and transitioning again. This time your boundary pushing has arrived resembling what I would call snit fits. If you don’t get what you want, you pout, you badger, you talk my ear off with disappointment and blame and if you’re worked up enough you fall into full fledged, life’s unfair, crying dramatics. I honestly think you’re subconsciously seeing how far you can push me before I lose it. The other day I had to put you in a time out because you became so completely worked up looking at yourself in the mirror. It was as if the more you witnessed your own devastation, the more devastated you became. It would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so irritating. I understand things can be disappointing and it’s hard when we don’t get our way but life is like that and, if you don’t learn to handle it now, you’ll be more prone to breakdowns later, and there’s nothing worse than a grown man having a hissy.

Back to this.

Back to this.

The other issue five has kindly brought us is bossy, know-it-all behavior. I’m sure it’s partially the product of growing up an only child, though we’ve done our best not to let you run the roost. Your Dad and I make a big effort to encourage you to fall in, to play our game or use your second choice toy. It’s not because we care what placemat we’re using or what Ninjago we get, it’s because we don’t want you going through life expecting everyone to bow to your will. We’ve done you no favors if you think the world revolves around you and reality will be a crushing blow. We’re very sensitive you not grow up with an inflated image of yourself. We don’t want you to fall into a world of righteous entitlement. We want you to feel special. We don’t want you to feel SPECIAL.  It’s important you understand everyone’s ideas have merit and just because you have a captive audience at home doesn’t mean the world will always stop to listen to you. Learning to be flexible, to defer to others, to know when to take the lead and when to give it away are important life skills and ones too often lacking in both children and adults.

Talks about our behavior started early.

Talks about behavior started early…

Up till now, you’ve been great at this kind of behavior. You’ve been a leader without being a dictator and I’ve secretly patted myself on the back for your excellent manners. So now that we’re returning to the post-birthday boundary check, these long established skills have been slipping and we need to reign them in. Recently you were playing at your BFF’s house and from the kitchen I could hear you screaming “No! You don’t do it like that!” “Stop playing until I say it’s time to start!” “NO! Wait for me to say ok!” And, when your friends ignored you and continued playing the way they wanted, you freaked out. “Stop! Stoooop!!!” I came in to find you standing at the side of the room just as livid as can be and I was floored. All your beautiful give and take, “please may I have?”, “that’s ok, I’ll play with it after” had been replaced by an unfamiliar, little tyrant yelling at his exasperated friends. When I asked you why you thought you were in charge you looked at me with irritation and disgust and said, “Because I’m the Director!”. Now, if you’d grown up on sets, or gone to work with your Dad, I might chalk this behavior up to remiss parenting and the need to extricate you from “the business” but you don’t even know what a Director is so the behavior was all you. What you really meant was you were the “Boss” and we needed to address it immediately.

...and has continued every year.

…and has continued every year.

Driving home you explained you were frustrated because no one was playing the game “right” and when you tried to explain the rules no one was listening so you had to scream. I tried to impart parental wisdom by saying that unless a game comes with rules written down on paper, there is no “right” way to play and you have to learn to loosen up on the “rules” because everyone’s ideas were worth the same amount. I tried to explain if you kept telling everyone what to do, yelling that they were wrong and screaming when you didn’t get your way, pretty soon just like Bossy Bossy Two Socks, no one was going to want to play with you. I realize it’s a tough lesson but it’s one you have to understand. At this stage, having friends is infinitely more important than being in charge.

I love his face in this one. Normally it's not caught on camera. Totally classic.

I love his face in this one. Normally it’s not caught on camera. Totally classic.

So, the battle continues. I hope the Post-Five adjustment ends sooner rather than later and I get my easy going boy back. Lochlan, I know you can’t stay the same forever. I know you’ll only continue to grow and change and each phase will test me in different ways. I can only hope I’m always able to rise to the challenge. I think children fail when parents get complacent and tired. Keeping up with the rules is exhausting. There are so many times when it would be easier just to say “eff it, I can’t deal with this” and let you do whatever you want, but high expectations require effort from both sides and we keep at it because we want the best for you. We want you to be the best you can be. We don’t want you to be that kid.

Most of all, we don’t want you to be that adult.

At the end of the day I’ll love you no matter what phase you’re in. Let’s just try and keep it an 80/20 split between my boy and that boy. Deal?

I love you always. Even when you’re a twit.

xo Mom

Lochlan_McGowan-058_1024

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