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Posts from the ‘Parenting’ Category

Lost: The Six Year Fog

Dear Loch,

There will be times in your life when you feel lost. When you look around and don’t recognize where you are. When you question the choices you’ve made and find yourself at a loss for which direction to go. I’m not going to lie, it’s a horrible feeling but, one I believe all those searching for true meaning in life find themselves facing at some point. Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about a crossroads or one of those moments where you need to make a leap of faith. I’m taking about a no man’s land of fog and oblivion. A place of near debilitating uncertainty where your path is nowhere to be seen and you’re dominated by fear and confusion. It’s an ugly time and I know exactly how it feels because I’m there right now. I may not have the answers to fix it but, I can tell tell you no matter how painful it is, it will eventually pass.

I know because I’ve been here before.

feeling+lostEvery six years or so I seem to find myself in a bit of a “what am I doing?” quandary. When I was younger it was infinitely less frightening as there was always a higher power I could lean on to get through…namely, my parents. No matter how despondent I felt, how scared or unsure I might have been, your grandparents were always there to pick me up. To love me while I struggled to find my place. My loss of direction and overall sense of confusion were always buffered by their protection.

As I aged, I came to realize – painfully, I might add – that this was no longer the case. Increased awareness and autonomy allows you to see your parents for the fallible, human people they truly are and, even with the best intentions, it’s impossible and honestly, unhelpful for your parents to protect you from everything. Your father and I want your life to be truly wonderful but your decisions are ultimately yours alone and, as much as we hope to help, it’s your path to follow not ours to dictate. If you’re true to yourself, you will find that some days – weeks, months or even years – will be truly difficult as you search for a life that means something to you.

etsy.com

etsy.com

How I feel now is how I felt after graduate school when I found myself in a job that wasn’t my calling. I’d ignored my dreams in favor of a life with less struggle and, ironically, was now struggling with the consequences of that choice. I’d redirected my path to conform to someone else’s standards and was, not surprisingly, miserable with the results. After crying every day for three months I came to the conclusion I must be clinically depressed. An acquaintance who had recently been committed seemed to be doing really well at a Toronto clinic so I called to see if they would take someone like me. They wouldn’t. So, instead, I partied, complained and worked out too much. I made strange decisions and found pleasure in very few of them. Ultimately, it was a movie that changed my life. Sitting alone in the dark on a hot, summer afternoon I realized I was unhappy because I was ignoring who I was and what I really wanted to do. It didn’t matter how “cool” my job was if it wasn’t the job for me and it didn’t matter how “amazing” my life seemed if I wasn’t happy living it. With the clear realization I was never going to be happy unless I wrote my own story and followed my own dreams, the fog lifted revealing the path I would follow without hesitation. Four months later I was living in New York, a student at an amazing conservatory and fully committed to my lifelong dream of being an actress.

It wasn’t until that dream began to falter that the fog rolled in again.

imgkid.com

imgkid.com

Living in LA, my career stalled, my plans adrift, my bank account empty and my face far older than was required for my profession I once again found myself crying every day. My shame compounded this time by the fact I now had a witness to my unravelling, your father. Things clearly weren’t working out. All the efforts and dreams and hopes I’d poured into my career were falling short. It didn’t matter how hard I worked or how good I might be, the fact was, it wasn’t happening. I just didn’t know what to do with that information. The reality was I’d become an incredibly overeducated, full time bartender who could barely look herself in the mirror for all the disappointment and self loathing. Who was I if I wasn’t who I thought I was going to be? Where was I going? To what purpose? I focused on photography because it made money but it didn’t reveal my path. I hid in the planning of my wedding, behind the success of my husband and in the excitement of my pregnancy but, I remained without direction. For a long time I tried to convince myself I could find happiness and fulfillment in other’s success. I wanted to believe I could be satisfied just raising you and playing a supporting role to your father’s dream but, when his dream started to waver and I allowed myself to finally admit my love of being a mother wasn’t extinguishing my own ambition, I had to face what I’d put aside and acknowledge how off track I truly was.

It was a painful time but, there’s a lesson in pain if you’re willing to look for it. Something to learn from unhappiness so you never have to deal with the same distress again. What-success-looks-like

Getting sick was the best and worst thing that could have ever happened to me. In the blink of an eye I was reminded, without a shadow of a doubt, who I was, what I wanted and what I cared about most. I recognized what was important and immediately stopped feeling sorry for myself because I wasn’t who I wanted to be. I realized, should I be lucky enough to live longer than expected, I was damn well going to live a life that mattered. I knew I wasn’t going down without a fight and discovered the best way to express that sentiment was through writing. Suddenly, there was my path again. I wasn’t just a sick person, a wife or a mother. I was me and I still had something to say.

The fact that six years later I’m still alive but once again lost is pretty classic. I have a blog that doesn’t make money, a book that’s yet to be published, art pieces I can’t afford to make and a political itch I’m unsure how to scratch. I’m also fully ensconced with your father as he goes through the exact same thing. It’s an uncomfortable time for us. One full of uncertainty and, in my case, quite often despair. I’m questioning everything: my talent, my direction, my mothering, my marriage, my history, my path and every time I come up wanting.351333

My friend Betsy says you “have to ride the horse in the direction it’s going” and though I don’t currently know which way that is, I rest in the knowledge that if I can just hang on, keep working, keep believing, keep listening I will eventually learn the lesson the universe is trying to teach me and all will become clear. I’d LOVE IT to just be easy but, history has shown me, it never is.  Despite the draw, the option to sit down and give up is not one I’m interested in. I know the fog will only lift if I continue to move forward, if I don’t make decisions based on fear and if I stay true to myself and the life I want.

Maybe we’re all phoenixes and, in order to create the ash to rise from, we must allow ourselves to burn. I’m in the fire right now but I know something new and better is coming. I just need to hang on until it does.

Even if it takes longer than you want, if you listen to your voice the path will always reveal itself. Pain and uncertainty are simply a necessary part of growth and rebirth.

I love you always.

xo Mommy

life

 

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I Am Someone’s Mommy

I’ve spoken before about how I often feel like an afterthought in my son’s eyes. How his Dad can do no wrong and I’m a pain in his ass. Sean’s the playmate. I’m the teacher. He’s the joy. I’m the heavy. My illness makes me weak and Sean seems like the most capable man in the world. His Dad shapes breakfast into starships and his Mom insists he put on shoes before we leave the house (the injustice!). I’ve come to accept that, for the most part, I’m lame and Sean’s cool. I don’t like it but, I’ve come to terms with it. He may love us both the same but, I can’t compete. I’m his rock but his Dad’s his Hero and a Hero throws a pretty large shadow.

The other night however, Lochlan was sick. Not crazy sick, just bad cold sick and it had been a long day so, after I put him to bed, I went to sleep myself. Sean was out and, when he got home, Loch woke up and started calling for me. Apparently, no matter what he did, Loch was still asking for me so, eventually, Sean came to wake me up. He apologized, saying he’d tried everything but, Loch just “really needed his Mommy.” 

This is literally how Sean presents Loch's breakfast. There's no competing with that!

This is literally how Sean presents Loch’s breakfast. There’s just no competing with that!

Here’s the thing, I’m an insomniac. Sleep is a struggle for me. When I’m already asleep, I REALLY hate getting up because once I’m up, I’m often up for hours. I’ve spent way too many nights just staring into the darkness worrying, writing notes, breaking down and trolling Facebook, counting the ever shrinking hours until I have to be out of bed again and, just waiting for the sleep that doesn’t come. It’s incredibly frustrating and I really do my best to avoid it at all costs.

I didn’t want to get out of bed that night. I didn’t want to be awake until 3am exhausted at home the next day with a sick child but, my baby was calling for me so, it didn’t matter what I wanted, I was going. I understood. Sometimes you just need your Mom.

He blew his nose and I gave him more cold medicine to break up the phlegm. I refluffed his pillows, straighten his sheets and flipped his blankets and, when he was finally settled, I sang. I sang the lullaby I’ve been singing to him since the first day he was born. I sang it soft and low while I patted his back and scratched his arm. He lay on his side, his little hand resting on my knee and I could feel his tiny shoulder blades through his t-shirt, the little hairs on his forearm, the impossibly soft skin on the top of his hand. I sang and sang and, finally, I just sat. I listened to him breathe. I listened to the sound of his stuffiness, to his little, muffled girggles and, then I made the disastrous mistake of asking if he wanted to blow his nose.

“Mom! You woke me up!!” (I didn’t). “You’re going to have to do it all over again but, this time when you’re done, don’t talk to me after ok?”

“Ok, babe. Sorry about that.” (He’s sick, I’ll give him a break on the tone he’s using.) “DO you want to blow your nose though?”

“Um…Yes.” (blow)

I started again. The singing, the back patting, the arm tickles but, this time, I became aware of how amazing the moment was. I’d passed the fresh out of bed, trying to get back to it phase. I was there now, awake, in it, and the intimacy of the moment, the warmth of being there in the dark with him, the satisfaction of being able to give him the affection he needed, it all overwhelmed me. I was struck by the fact that my love for him had become a tangible thing. A security blanket he craved. Something he needed to hold on to. My very presence was like a xynax for his soul. Despite all the hero worship, in this moment, it was me who made a difference. Me who was required.

IMG_7903The thing is, being diagnosed when Loch was 5 months old, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to experience that feeling. It didn’t seem as if I’d be around long enough to ever really matter to him. To be remembered or, make any lasting impression on his life but, sitting there quietly on the side of his bed just allowing the song to settle, I recognized I’d made it. I’d lived long enough, and put in enough effort, to register as essential and, it felt amazing.

Eventually I took his hand off my knee, stood up, walked to his doorway and…

Tripped on his door stop.

“Mom!!”

“Sorry! Sorry Lochie! I didn’t see it.” (Ow. My toe.)

“Can you sing it again?” (It’s my own fault. Damn you rock.)

“Of course baby.”

I crossed back to his bed and sat down. I felt his little hand searching for my knee in the dark.

“When you’re done will you tuck me in too?”

“Do you want your arms under the blankets?”

“No, just my shoulder.”

“Ok, babe. I’ll do that.”

IMG_7838I wasn’t annoyed. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t rushing to get back to bed. I knew I would be there for as long as he needed me. His little, pudgy fingers softly moved against the flannel of my pants as I started the song again and, this time, I found myself getting choked up. For all it’s efforts, being a parent is an incredible blessing. What an honor it is to be the person who can calm and improve a situation simply with your presence. How extraordinary to be the one looked to for help and guidance, the one who offers security and, in this case, how touching to be the one chosen. The one required above all others.

I sang the song two more times, even after I knew he was asleep, not wanting the moment to end and, every time I sang, the importance of my role grew on me. The repetition was a gift that allowed me to see the wonder.

I am Lochlan’s Mom and, no matter what ends up happening to me, I can say with all certainty that I mattered. That I made an impression on this small, wonderful boy’s life. To him I was irreplaceable.

Thank you Sean. Thank you Lochlan’s cold. Thank you stupid door stop. Thank you beautiful son. Thank you lovely and haunting “Bye Oh By Baby”.

I went right to sleep that night, a completely happy girl and, a totally fulfilled mother.

Blessings to you all.

xo leigh

Being-a-mother-Picture-quote-

 

Raising a Boy in a Rape Culture

Dear Loch,

You are a big kid. A powerful kid. A 6-year-old who can knock me right over. A boy who gives his Dad a run for his money. You are strong and nimble and able to use your body to get what you want…but you don’t. Instead you’re someone who uses his words, his powers of persuasion, his intellect to seek what you need. You’re the kid who asks if someone is ok and helps people up when they’ve fallen. The one who felt he should make a “moat” with his arms around the smallest girl in your class because “she’s so little mommy, people are going to knock her down.” I’ve always felt incredibly grateful for your temperament. It’s kind and thoughtful when it could be aggressive and wild. You’ve shown no violent tendencies or instinct towards cruelty. You’re empathetic and sweet and have been known to burst into tears when you feel something is unfair to you or someone else. You might give me a run for my money, but overall you are a darling boy who’s the epitome of a “lover not a fighter”. My problem lies in the fact that you’re growing up in this increasingly hoochie, shake your ass, women as objects/vessels, let me please you, sex society. You’re coming of age in a time when women are getting killed for refusing to date a boy or gang raped by friends at parties or shot en mass by teenage misogynists on a rampage. A girl was recently stabbed to death in her high school hallway for refusing to go to prom and the most recent statistics show a woman is sexually assaulted in America every 2 minutes.

This is a real ad for a high end car. It's difficult not to get the impression that women are there to service in some way from it.

This is a real ad for a high end car and though it’s cheeky (in more ways than one), it’s difficult not to get the wrong impression from it.

How do I properly raise you in a culture that uses sex as currency and women as objects. A country with high profile rape cases involving high school and college students that are so grotesque, so abusive of power but with communities that rally around the perpetrators because they’re sports stars or popular kids? How do I properly guide you through a world of sexting and snap chatting? Or an internet with teen rape clubs like Roast Busters who publicly boasted their behavior for two years before anybody did anything? On her popular and informative YouTube show “Sex +” Laci Green talks about the culture of “toxic masculinity”. How we, as a society, have created an environment where men feel entitled to women, friends, sex and when that entitlement is met with opposition some of them become so angry they lash out violently.***** Green notes that 70 of the last 71 mass murders were committed by men, mostly white men, who felt in some way alienated from the culture of powerful, cool, sexual masculinity that permeated their lives. There are entire websites (like collegeiscool.com) devoted to young people degrading themselves on camera to become famous, rich or popular. How do I ensure you make the right decisions in the wake of so many bad ones? The age old adage “if all your friends jumped off a cliff…” seems weak when we’re talking these kind of extremes.

Kids need to understand the reality of the situation. We can’t just inform our girls about how to protect themselves we have to teach our boys how to rise above it. I want you to be far above the lowest common denominator. To be aware and confident enough to speak up and say enough to the misogyny, the derogatory jokes, the “she was asking for it” justifications.

Even girls that make bad decisions don't "deserve" to be victims. coffeeandcrosswords.com

Even girls who make terrible decisions don’t “deserve” to be victims. coffeeandcrosswords.com

No more victimizing the victims ^^ and debating over “consent”. Consent should be obvious. “No means no” but YES should be the word you’re looking for. If a woman is willing she’s aware, she’s conscious, she’s agreeable and verbal about that decision. Just because you don’t hear no, doesn’t make it so.

You have to distance yourself from the base behavior of your brethren. You must fight against it. Protect, when it’s easier to dismiss. Standing idly by does not make you innocent. Complacency is akin to guilt. Zaron Burnett III recently wrote an essay that went viral entitled The Gentlemen’s Guide to Rape Culture. Rape Culture being defined by Marshall University’s Women’s Center as an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. It is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety. In the essay Burnett says, like it or not, as a man you are a part of the rape culture and it is your responsibility to correctly navigate your way through it.

Australian Calvin Klein ad

Is gang rape supposed to be sexy in this Australian Calvin Klein ad?

Burnett points out, as Rutger’s college students also recently did with their “Rape Poem to End all Rape Poems”, that we’ve created a culture “in which women must consider where they are going, what time of day it is, the day of the week, what she’ll be wearing and if she’ll be left alone.” That we’ve allowed our society to get to a point where women are not safe to walk by themselves, leave their drinks unattended or, heaven forbid, pass out at a party without putting themselves in imminent danger. Yes, women should be responsible for their actions (see the above picture – Good Lord girls!), but something has gone terribly wrong if our society’s default is to pass judgement on the victim not the perpetrator. There is a serious problem if seemingly innocuous choices (choices that men like you take for granted, like clothes and independence) become the source for imposing fault or blame. It’s not a new phenomenon to blame the victim, it’s just become completely out of control. Women shouldn’t be afraid of being killed if they break up with a boyfriend, or attacked if they wear a crop top, or raped in the middle of high school.

Because there shouldn't be a need for glassware from companies like designboom to indicate whether your drink has been drugged or not.

There shouldn’t be a need for glassware from companies like designboom to indicate whether your drink has been drugged or not.

My message to you, my boy, is that none of this is right. As you move forward in your future you must take control and responsibility for your behavior and decisions. You are accountable for both your actions and the actions you fail to take. You were raised to be a hero, not a villain. As Burnett says,“You may think it’s unfair that men have to counteract and adjust themselves for the ill behavior of other men and you are right. It is unfair. But if issues of fairness bother you, get mad at the men who make you appear questionable. Because when it comes to assessing a man, whatever one is capable of, a woman must presume you are also capable of. Unfortunately, all men must be judged by the worst example. If you think this sort of stereotyping is bulls*^#, think about how you treat a snake you come across in the wild. You treat it like a snake. That’s not stereotyping. That’s acknowledging an animal for what it’s capable of doing and the harm it can inflict.” * 

article-2071890-0F1B8BB800000578-130_634x806Freud wrote extensively about the herd or mob mentality. The idea that an individual can basically turn off their conscious mind in favor of the group psychology that is often more base and violent. There’s a feeling of anonymity in a group. People felt protected, free to tap into their baser instincts while simultaneously accepting less responsibility for those actions. People often try to use this theory to explain why they did something they clearly knew to be wrong. You hear a lot of, “I was just doing what my friends were doing” or “I got caught up in the situation.” This is not a legitimate excuse. It’s a cop-out defense of the weak minded. You know right from wrong. You are in control of what you do and no matter what “everyone” chooses, you stick to YOUR morals.

You're bombard by pictures like this every day. It's bad for women and it's bad for your opinion of what women are here for.

You’re bombard by pictures like this every day. It’s bad for women and it’s bad for your opinion of what women are here for.

Whether I’m here or not, I expect you to be a good man who makes honorable decisions. Someone who behaves with forethought and respect. I also charge you to look out for those who are weaker. To speak for those who don’t have a voice. To be brave enough to stand up and take charge of a situation before things become chaotic. I’m not advocating violence to prevent violence. I’m advocating leadership that inspires nobility. Even if all you do is walk straight to the police.

Burnett challenges the good men of the male species to return to the world of the gentleman. To avoid using language that objectifies or degrades women. To think critically about the media’s messages about women, men, relationships, and violence.** To be respectful of others’ physical space even in a casual situation and to help women feel at ease in your presence. It’s your job to communicate with your sexual partners and not, even in a relationship, simply assume consent.

Burnett says:

vogue

A real cover from Vogue Homme.

“No one is suggesting violence. In fact, that’s what we’re looking to avoid. But sometimes, a man needs to confront another man or a group of men in a situation. When I’m out in public and I see a man hassling a woman, I stop for a moment. I make sure the woman sees me. I want her to know I’m fully aware of what’s happening. I wait for a moment for a clear indication from her of whether she needs help. Sometimes, the couple will continue right on fighting like I’m just a hickory tree. Other times, the woman will make it clear she’d like backup and I approach the situation. I’ve never had to get violent. Usually, my presence alone makes the guy leave if he’s a stranger, or explain himself if they’re familiar. It changes the dynamic. That’s why I always stop when I see a woman getting hassled in public. For any reason. I make sure any woman, in what could become a violent situation, one I may or may not be correctly assessing, feels that she has the opportunity to signal to me if she needs assistance. If you see a situation spiraling out of control, and especially if someone is crying for help or being attacked, you should confront the situation. You don’t need to “break it up.” But engage, get involved, take down pertinent information, alert authorities, call the police. Do something.” ***

The world is a broken baby. When things like #YesAllWomen become necessary, the time has come to insist on change and, I believe, real change starts at home.

xo Mom

P.S. I would strongly advise clicking on all the links in this letter. They are incredibly telling of how bad things really have become.

***** The fact that these boys are lashing out with access to a high powered arsenal of weapons is it’s own issue.

^^ I am literally sickened by this “helpful” website on how not to get raped. Sickened!

* Zaron Burnett III, The Gentlemen’s Guide to Rape Culture

** Zaron Burnett III,  The Gentlemen’s Guide to Rape Culture

*** Zaron Burnett III,  The Gentlemen’s Guide to Rape Culture

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A Field Guide to High School

Dear Loch,

I’m one of those people who really loved High School. Yes, it’s a period of your life rife with insecurity but, for the most part, I thought it was marvelous. I often wonder when I hear people talk about High School as if it was “time served” what made my experience so different. How, even with the ups and downs that inevitably come with adolescence, I really was incredibly happy. Was it just dumb luck? Was I supremely clever? I don’t think so. I know a number of other people (your Dad included) who clearly found a happy route through a time otherwise fraught with strife, so at this the milestone of my 20th High School Reunion (of which I just attended!) I thought I’d attempt to crystalize my own personal “Secret to High School Success”. Take what you will out of it, but understand that no point in your life has to be miserable. Uncomfortable and awkward maybe, but not unhappy. You deserve happiness. So, here are some ways to go about achieving it from ages 14 through 18 (maybe even beyond).

photo 2

Ninth grade.

photo 4

25 years later.

1. FIND YOURSELF A FRIEND. I realize this is easier said than done but all you need is one person who really “gets” you for the world to become infinitely better. I was lucky enough to have a lot of friends in High School but even more blessed to have one special friend who was truly on my page. A person who shared my interests and insecurities and had a strikingly similar outlook on life. There was power and security in being part of a team. We could be keeners without irony joining things like choir and theatre and being enthusiastic without fear of ridicule. We were able to commiserate about the acne only the two of us seemed to have, go to parties as a unit and spend hours on the phone debriefing our emotional turmoils. Despite the fact I was always single and she almost always had a boyfriend, we had each other’s backs. When we were both elected student leaders – a job neither of us were ashamed to admit we wanted – we were able to do that together too. Even now, all these years later, despite time and fall outs and distance, she’s still my person. We don’t live in the same city, we don’t often talk on the phone or email but when we’re together it’s as if no time has passed. Twenty-five years later and she’s still the the one helping me twist our friend’s arms to go out or get involved. Still the two of us taking the chance on something that might be fun. They took a group shot of all the girls from my year who came to the Reunion and it made me laugh because after the requisite smiling shot the photographer asked us to “be crazy” and of the four people who even acknowledged that request…two of them were us. I know letting her into my life not only made High School bearable, it made it a joy.

photo 9

A really nice group of ladies stuck with the often awkward request to “do something crazy.”

2. DO THE THINGS YOU ACTUALLY WANT TO DO. If you like chess, join the club. If you want to act, audition for the play. Don’t get caught up in what’s cool or not cool. It’s the doing of the things you enjoy that make your time somewhere enjoyable. If you like it, do it. Plus, you’re more likely to meet the person above if you do. “Birds of a feather…” as Granny says.

3201bb104e44390a81ae111442eb9dfe3. BE NICE. Not everyone is going to like you, just don’t give them an excuse not to. There are lots of reasons people don’t take to you in High School – jealousy, supposed slights, gossip, assumptions – try not to add to the list. I’ll always remember my last year of High School when I became friends with a girl I had never hung out with before. At one point, in the early stages of our friendship, she said “I can’t believe you’re so nice. I always thought you’d be such a bitch.” I asked why she thought that and she said, “I guess because you’re popular and hang out with who you do. I just assumed it.” It was a eye opener. She thought she knew me but she didn’t and that kind of thing happens all the time. I like to think I never gave anyone a reason to hate me. Even the one person I couldn’t find any common ground with in High School I was genuinely happy to see at the reunion. Despite all our teenage differences, 20 years later, without our preconceived notions getting in the way, our mutual distaste has naturally softened into mutual respect. We might not have liked each other at 18 but we never gave each other any reason to retain that dislike at 38.

Disco Semi-Formal? Why not go as the disco ball? It's fun to go all in. Thanks to my date Brian for doing it with me!! He thought I was punking him!

Disco Semi? Why not go as the disco ball? It’s fun to go all in. Thanks to my date Brian for doing it with me!! He thought I was punking him!

4. BE ENTHUSIASTIC. Life is amazing and the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out. The same goes for High School. Invest as much as you can for as long as you have. What you put in will be reflected back. Commitment to something gives you purpose. Purpose gives you drive. Drive keeps you motivated and motivation takes you places.

5. WORK HARD. This might sound like a dismissible maternal cliche, but it’s not. In many ways it’s the same as above point just painted with a scholastic brush. In High School I knew I wanted to attend a specific University and I kept that in mind the whole time I was there. I picked classes I was interested in and focused on getting the best grades I could. I worked my a*# off and it paid off. I chose, as I often say to you, to do the MOST I could rather than the LEAST. I had no interest in simply skating by. If you’re going to do something, you may as well do it well. Frankly that’s an ethic that will serve you well beyond the 12th grade.

quotescover.com

quotescover.com

As a side note: there’s also a lot less time to get into trouble and fart around making bad decisions when you’re up to your eyeballs in school work and extra curricular and it’s a lot more fun to be on the Dean’s list than the  s*^# list. There’s a security in knowing you’ve done your best because, whatever happens, you know the result wasn’t because you could have worked harder. Ask a lot of yourself and deliver. It’s a productive way to go through life.

6. RETAIN PERSPECTIVE. Try and remember there is an entire world outside of High School. Your dramas and trials and tribulations, though seemingly epic, are simply a blip in the story of your life. If you aren’t happy, if you don’t fit in, if you feel weird or different or insecure know that 1. You aren’t alone. Even the coolest of the cool are going through their own s*^# and, 2. It’s going to be over soon. Four years is nothing. You have the rest of your life to find your place or your people, to discover who you are or reinvent yourself. I can honestly say everyone from my year who came to the reunion is an incredibly nice person worthy of respect. We might not have all run in the same circles at 16 but things change. You change. They change. The time between the 9th and 12th grade is negligible on the grand scale. I understand it feels monumental while you’re in it, but it’s just four years at the beginning of a life. A foreshadowing of your adulthood. Take it for what it is, a foundation. A place to learn how to make friends, develop a work ethic and discover who you are or might be interested in being later. It’s a training ground for life but it isn’t your life. It’ll be over in the blink of an eye so you may as well enjoy it while you’re there.

There's a whole world ahead of you. In my case I wouldn't always have those eyebrows, my face would thin out, my confidence would waiver then come back stronger. I thought I knew who I was but I was only just beginning to understand.

There’s a whole world ahead of you. In my case I wouldn’t always have those eyebrows, my face would thin out, my confidence would waiver then come back stronger. I thought I knew who I was but I was only just beginning to understand.

Looking around at the girls at my reunion I was fascinated with the passage of time and the boundaries and walls erected in youth that are able to come down when you’re older. In many ways I was also struck with the positive nature of, the much maligned, social media. None of us showed up at that reunion completely ignorant of the other’s past twenty years. Almost all of us have reconnected in some way on-line. We are aware of each other. What jobs people have. If they have families or spouses. We’re familiar with life events and shared challenges. This point was brought home to me clearly when, during the tour of the school, one of my old classmates (not a close friend mind you) took my arm after a particularly difficult set of stairs. She knew I was sick. She could see I was struggling. She simply put her hand under my arm and helped me navigate the rest of the tour. I was so grateful. Honored and touched to be known in such an intimate way and cared for without question by someone who had no vested interest in me or my feelings.

We don’t know who we’re going to be after High School. What fate will become us as we press forward with our lives. We are unaware of the cards that will be dealt but, even with that uncertainty, we should make the best of the time we have while we’re there. Be our best selves despite the fact that self will probably change. Do the most with what we have until we have more. If High School is a training ground for life, you may as well train as if you’re going for gold….because you are, aren’t you?

I love you baby.

I hope you have the best time in High School but I hope it’s not the best time of your life.

xo me, your mom

photo 8

My final thought after the reunion after party. xo

Love, Life and What to Wear – Part 1: The Closet

Dear Lochie,

First of all let me just say I hope you can call me. That I’m still here for you to talk to and we have the kind of relationship where you respect and trust my opinions. As I’ve said a million times, my dream is that these letters are simply a jumping off point to a future conversation we can have in person. But, since we’re unable to forsee what’s ahead, I wanted to jot down a few ideas just in case.

Now, it may feel frivilous or irrelevant to talk about clothes and style but, baring world destruction, I’m here to tell you it’s not. How you visually present yourself to the world is the first thing anyone sees, ergo the first thing you’ll be judged on. It’s not fair, it’s probably not right, but it’s true. What’s inside may be what counts, but it’s the packaging that often makes all the difference. I want people to know and love you as I do but, in life, before you even have the chance to even open your mouth people will have already made assumptions about you with their eyes. It’s my goal to see you’re not starting at a disadvatage.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to do a series of aesthetic run downs. It’s strictly surface. I touched on it before when I spoke on the deeper aspects of “being a man” but this time we’re staying firmly in the shallow end of the issue pool. It’s not life or death. It’s denim or kakhis.

Dare to dream of a closet like this one from fedoras.com. Good grief...and sigh.

Dare to dream of a closet like this one from fedoras.com. Good grief…and sigh.

As you age you’ll develop and hone your own style (and there’ll probably be many a girlfriend who wants to dress you) but I feel it’s my job as your mother to let you know where to start. I don’t want you to ever feel insecure because you’re unsure of what to wear and, as far as I’m concerned, there are basics you should consider embracing no matter what your future “look” or gal pal might encourage. I expect you’ll tweak this advice to make it your own but I never want to hear about you showing up at a wedding in cargo pants or at a job interview in a ball cap.

We can do better than that.

I begin this series with a list of items I hope will find their way into your wardrobe by your mid-20’s (if not earlier). You’ll discover the best ones over time and certain trends will fill in your closet, but for now, here is my list of what I believe a grown man should own.*

Chris PIne working the right fitting t-shirt, jeans and properly sized casual belt buckle. Also love a good pair of glasses. Your dad took black Ray Ban Wayfarers and put his regular perscription in them. It looks fantastic.  justjared.com

Chris PIne working the right fitting t-shirt, jeans and properly sized casual belt buckle. I also love a good pair of glasses.
justjared.com

At least 3 PAIRS OF GOOD JEANS. Not baggy and preferably not skin tight but well fitted, straight leg, boot cut or skinny. Your jean style will depend on a combination of how your body fills out and the style of the day, but definitley invest in good denim. These days jeans can take you almost anywhere. Washes should include: a casual worn in blue, dark “dress” blue, and black. Grey and sand are also terrifc alternatives.

A CASUAL BLACK AND BROWN BELT that are your size. No flapping overhang or just making it to the first hole. Buy a belt that fits. Also make sure the buckle size balances your body type. Not too big or too small.

A DRESSY BLACK AND BROWN BELT in good shape (good quality leather, no fraying) that’s not too shiny and has a classic buckle. Europeans, and people who dress like Europeans, can get away with a covered buckle but they don’t often work on the classic American male. I’m happy to take that back if you show me the belt that proves me wrong, but for now let’s just stick with the basics.

At least 6 COOL T-SHIRTS. Well fitted. Good cotton. No logos. Personally, I like a v-neck but you might be a crew neck guy and that’s great. Beware the super deep V. It’s made for a very specific kind of man, particularly one without body hair and, looking at your Dad (and the fact that your legs are hairy as a six year old), you might want to steer clear of anything that shows a pizza size chunk of chest. The most important thing is fit and quality. You need something that breathes and looks good on you. A cotton shirt should skim your body without being too tight.  It should fit your shoulders well and hit your arms at just the right location to accentuate their shape without clinging to their size. This is usually between the upper half and quarter of your bicept. Avoid cap sleeves or sleeves that go almost to the elbow. It looks wrong. Personally, I’d go with 2-3 white T’s (pitching and replacing them when they start to look tired or get yellow pits), at least one blue, one navy, one black, and one grey – light and/or dark.

Never!!! Never. Never. Never. NoiseBot.com

Never!!! Never. Never. Never.
NoiseBot.com

If you want to rock a concert T or a logo T knock yourself out, just make sure you still own a number of plain ones. People should see you, not read you. And never, ever wear a gross or rude T-shirt. It’s not funny, it’s lame, and wearing it makes you lame. Trust me on this and just don’t. Over the years you’ll find the styles and brands that fit you best and once you do, stick with them. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel. Knowing what looks good on you makes shopping easy. Rule of thumb: If more than one person compliments you on a shirt, that’s a brand you might want to go back to.

This might be a good time to mention that clothes look best on bodies that are in shape. Making the gym – or sports – a priority in your life is a great way to stay healthy AND ensure you look good in your wardrobe.

A HENLEY. Which is basically a long sleeve cotton shirt with 2 or 3 buttons at the neck. It’s a nice, casual look – waffle or plain – that says “I’m chill but still willing to make an effort.” And unless they’re worn to perfection or you (or someone else) likes to wear them to bed, you can officially let go of any High School sweatshirts or team shirt after the age of 23.**

slim sweaters don't have to feel conservative.  myintimateaffairwithfashion.com

Slim sweaters don’t have to feel conservative. They can look very cool.
myintimateaffairwithfashion.com

A HOODIE. Seems obvious, probably doesn’t work after 50, but a great dark grey or navy hoodie can take you so many places. Casual places for sure, but still, that one piece of clothing will definitely earn it’s keep.

A NICE SWEATER. Honestly, living in California, you don’t need a ton of sweaters. A light weight, well fitted (see T-shirt) sweater can look amazing on a man. If I had my drothers I’d say, one dark grey, one black and one color – maybe blue, camel or cream. Just start with one and move forward from there. Again, personally, I like a v-neck because it looks good with a shirt underneath, but your father has some solid crew neck ones that look fantastic despite the fact I couldn’t tell you the last time he wore one.

This is an attractive man but it's still a really hard look to pull off. ralphlauren.com

This is an attractive man but I’m still not sure he’s pulling off this turtleneck. ralphlauren.com

A BIG, CHUNKY SWEATER. This is not essential but it’s great for trips to the moutains or say…Canada. Something wool and masculine in a cream, hunter green or dark grey. Crew neck is the standanrd here and please, stay away from turtlenecks. First, because you’ll probably sweat your balls off, and second, because unless you’re in a Michael Kors or Ralph Lauren ad, it is an incredibly difficult look to pull off without looking like an un-ironic version of 1970’s apres ski.

At least 5 WELL FITTED BUTTON DOWN SHIRTS (Read: not blousy or full). A perfect, slim white one you can wear without a tie (meaning it doesn’t have to do up around your neck). A white shirt that does do up around your neck. A blue button down (checks or plain) that you can wear with a tie but also more casually with jeans. Finally a couple casual button downs with patterns (plaid etc.) that might be a little bit hipster/a little bit country. Whichever your fancy. Men also seem to love a black button down but I find with those you either end up looking like everyone else or like the waiter or bartender, so you make that call. A button down shirt and jeans is a nice way to “dress up” without actually dressing up. It’s a pulled together look with minimal effort on your part. Add a blazer, you’re practically semi formal.

This is a big guy, but he sure looks slick in a slim fitted suit. sunnydaystarrynight.com

This is a big guy, but he sure looks slick in a slim fitted suit.
sunnydaystarrynight.com

Speaking of blazers. You really should have a GREAT FITTING BLACK SUIT. It should fit like it was made for you and, if you buy correctly it should make you feel like a million bucks. A great black suit can double as a tux. It can be used as separates. It can take you from a job interview to a wedding to a bar. Tie or no tie, pants and jacket as stand alones, a tailored black suit is a wardrobe staple.*** And once you’ve learned to like suits, you can add as many as you choose. Nowadays you can even wear the right suit with t-shirts. It’s really a men’s wardrobe no-brainer.

4+ TIES. A dress tie with a sheen and no pattern in cream, bronze, black, or silver (just something classic that pops against a white shirt) plus 3 other ties of various subtle patterns. Once you start wearing ties you can branch out but I’d advise always aiming for classic and simple over busy and/or funny. Please no characters (unless you’re being ironic and you’re in on the joke) and use wimsy sparingly. Your Dad once totally rocked a turquoise floral tie, but it was for a very specific occasion (a Southern wedding) and definitely not an every day kind of thing.

WORK OUT WEAR. I’m not saying you need to be a walking billboard for Under Armour, just don’t cruise around in your sh*^test clothes and call them gym clothes. Once again, as soon as those pits go yellow, pitch it.

Casual, KICK AROUND PANTS. Joggers or tear aways. Something that’s comfortable but still looks presentable.

Leather jackets are just casual cool.  leatherstrend.com

Leather jackets are just casual cool.
leatherstrend.com

PROPER OUTERWEAR. A LIGHT JACKET like an army coat, or something casual, that you can swing on if it’s chilly but weighs very little and can be jammed into a bag (or ball) without fear of ruin. A wool (or if you can afford it cashmere) 3/4 CAR COAT that will keep you warm but looks slick. Your Dad currently has two of these on rotation, a camel one we had tailored (see ***) with a bit more room to go over a suit jacket, and a navy one that fits like a glove and looks amazing over a button down or T-shirt. They both look (and more importantly, make him feel) amazing. I’d also suggest a HEAVIER WEIGHT JACKET like leather. Your Dad’s worn a broken in brown LEATHER JACKET for years. It was a heafty investment at the time but, if anything, it keeps getting better with age. This year he also invested in a black one that’s more moto and less aviator. He loves that one too but it’s the brown one that gets the most play. A leather jacket can be a man’s best friend. It’s like cool sunglasses ****, able to elevate the most basic of looks to stylish extremely fast.

Lincoln-174-2neighborhood-x-converse-first-string-collection-16to-boot-black-to-boot-new-york-mens-randall-splittoe-oxford-product-6-3133032-476238461_large_flexSHOES. Shoes are a big deal in our house. Not just because your Dad has 2 different size feet and we have to buy 2 of everything, but because shoes say a lot about a person. Men’s clothing is rather basic by nature so shoes can become an large part of your outfit. ***** The shoes I’d recommend would be: COOL SNEAKS – non-workout rubber soled shoes you can rock with jeans or shorts. RUNNERS – workout or sports shoes with excellent support for keeping in shape. COOL BOOTS – it doesn’t matter if they’re full length or mid calf as long as they fit your proportions and make you feel awesome. The right boots should, both metaphoically and figuratively, make you stand a little taller. Your Dad loves boots – Frys, lace up military, smooth side zip boots – they all work. He has one pair he currently doubles as dress shoes. Even cowboy boots rock. Whatever your style turns out to be the right boot can bring it home. Worn in is great as long as there’s no duck tape or flapping soles. DRESS SHOES. Yep. You need them. Most of the time you can probably get away with a dress boot, or lately a cool sneak (a look I’m not personally down with but is definitely popular), but there will be some occasions that call for a real dress shoe and you may as well own a pair you like. Look for ones that are slim to the foot without being pointy or skinny. A brogue or a stylish oxford can look fantastic. Get something that doesn’t look like you just went with the cheapest lace up to get it over with. Take the time to look around. Find something you can actually get behind. Unlike boots however, these ones you must keep in shape with polish and care. No matter how casual our society has become, a scuffed dress shoes still speaks volumes about it’s wearer.

Nice, seasonal clothing from a lovely inexpensive label.  hm.com

Nice, seasonal clothing from a lovely inexpensive label.
hm.com

SEASONAL CLOTHES – Linen pants and a linen shirt are a great summer alternative to jeans and a button down and should fit a little looser to account for the heat. Flip flops are preferable to sandles or crocs on men for, what I hope are, obvious reasons. A couple pairs of loose casual shorts and maybe even a tailored pair are great for summer and get yourself a swim suit that fits and flatters as well as a rash guard to protect you from the sun. Avoid gigantic floppy board shorts that could fit 3 people. For the winter I’d say find a good beanie, well made (warm) leather or wool gloves and a cool scarf. Everything else in your wardrobe can be used almost year round.

PROPER GITCH. Whether you’re a boxer or a boxerbrief man (which, by the way, is what the 6 year old version of you prefers), until you’ve had all my future grandchildren you should stay away from breifs. Studies show they aren’t so great for your boys and honestly, they’re a bit showy. Also, though I imagine you might go through a funny underwear phase at some point in your life, stick with plain colors – black, grey, even red is fine. White has a tendancy to look crappy (pun almost intended) and crazy pickles, smiley faces and paisley are a bit much. AGAIN, as soon as they start looking ragged, lose em! Are we seeing a pattern here?

Henley, Pea Coat, Good jeans, cool boots.

Henley, Pea Coat, Good jeans, cool boots.

Remember, not everything has to cost a million dollars. Sure, it would be lovely to always shop at John Vervatoss or Tom Ford but there are great things at all price points. Check out the H&M of your day. Right now Express sells really nice men’s suits and you can find great fitted button down at Banana Republic or amazing quality slim T-shirt at the GAP. Check the quality of the fabric and if it passes the test, the only issue becomes how it looks on you. If it looks and feels good, it is good. It doesn’t need a $200 price tag to prove it.

If you’re going to spend money on anything start with the shoes. Superior shoes make a huge difference to the quality of your day…and your back. Then look to a proper fitted white button down. Your Dad had a Helmut Lang one he wore into the ground. No shirt has ever looked better. Finally look to the leather jacket. Those are good places to start with your money. After that I’d say jeans and suit. If you’re in shape you don’t need to spent $150 to make a T-shirt look good. It’ll look good by proxy.

Even super casual can feel pulled together. Thanks vogue men.

Even super casual can feel pulled together. Thanks vogue men.

So, that’s that. Yes, you’ll wear baseball caps (forwards AND backwards – sorry Dad). Yes, you’ll have some questionable fashion choices over time (I’m looking at you one shoulder-ed overalls) but for the most part you want your clothes to accentuate, rather than distract from, who you are. You want to look polished, or at least, strategically casual. You want to be taken seriously so you have to appear like someone worth listening to. As comfortable as Addidas slip ons might be, no one ever took advice from anyone wearing them. You want to look in the mirror and feel good. You want your fashion choices to tell the world you respect yourself enough to care. That you’re someone worth respecting.

I’ll love you no matter what you wear but what you wear is a choice.

Choose who you want to be.

xoxo Mom

*Cavat: If you turn out to be a rockstar or professional skateboarder and your entire wardrobe consists of leather pants or baggy shorts you can skip this letter but, for the sake of argument, let’s press on.

** Acknowledge that no matter how much you love something “the time comes” for almost everything in your wardrobe. That’s you shredded jeans with no ass.

quora.com

quora.com

*** Your clothes should never bag or bulge. They should fit your body as if they were made for it. If something you own is good but not great or, you love something but wish it fit better, never underestimate the power of a professional tailor. A good tailor can make anything – from a dress shirt or a coat to a suit and a pair of jeans – look like a million bucks for a minimal fee.

****The right sunglasses are key. Start with classic styles that won’t break the bank like Ray Bans. You can’t go wrong with classic American cool. As your tastes and budget expand you can look at lines like Persol but you can’t go wrong with an old school Ray Ban.

Dressy shirt, nice watch, rope bracelets. Stylish can come in many different forms. meandmybentley.tumblr.com

Dressy shirt, nice watch, rope bracelets. Stylish can come in many different forms.
meandmybentley.tumblr.com

***** Men can rock a cool necklace (leather, sometimes metal, I’m not much for gold), the occasional ring (I personally like a simple wedding band, but there’s no hard and fast rule) and the right bracelet – rope, copper, leather (please no diamonds) but for the most part, mens’s accessories are pretty limited. Watches are a good place to start -the right ones never go out of style and can ultimately be passed down. Cufflinks are nice if you live that sort of a lifestyle. Tie clips are currently popular with the dialed-in hipster but not all men can pull off the skinny ties that go with it, and of course, hats which, I’m thrilled to say, have come back in style. Beenies are obvious but fedoras and their ilk are also incredibly popular these days and worn properly can really add to a man’s personal style.

When all else fails you can always look to David Beckam ... or the David Beckham of your day. That man has a good time getting dressed.  fashionbeans.com

When all else fails you can always look to David Beckam … or the David Beckham of your day. That man has a good time getting dressed.
fashionbeans.com

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

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

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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

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Daddy’s Girl

They say a daughter’s relationship with her father influences all future relationships she will have with men. If that’s truly the case then I’m a lucky girl. My Dad and I were close from the beginning. I’ve never questioned his love for me and have always been confident of his support. My father however, does not suffer fools gladly and though there may be pictures of post work dancing with his “little pink”, my tiny newborn body supported from hand to elbow, he was far from a pushover. His love for me might have been unconditional, but you didn’t earn his respect without merit.

Dancing with my Dad at the end of the day was a ritual. Apparently I wasn't feeling it this particular day.

Dancing with my Dad at the end of the day was a ritual. Apparently I wasn’t feeling it this particular day.

When I was young my Dad called me the midget because I was small and over time it morphed into the name he calls me to this day, Midgey. I love my Dad. I look up to him. I respect him and admire his journey. He’s a survivor, my Dad. He thrives in a challenge. From the death of his hero and father at 25, his beloved mother’s stroke 7 months later, finding himself without parents and saddled with their vast unpaid debts at 26, he not only rose above his circumstances – putting himself through law school and his sister through University – he thrived. Married at 27, my Dad became a man who was not only successful, but respected and well liked, and he offered my mother and I a wonderful life to be proud of. In my memories he always had time for me. I never felt marginalized or had to question whether he wished he’d had more children or that I was a boy. My Dad and I enjoyed each other’s company. We had our jokes and our songs – John Fogerty’s Centerfield, Willie Nelson’s Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain  – and he treated me like a person who’s opinions mattered. In my family my voice was always heard. I had value in my father’s eyes. Yes, he pushed me but, even frustrated, I was grateful. My father’s inability to accept anything less than 100% pushed me to be better and so much of who I am I credit to the lessons I learned while biting my tongue.

L&G SittinMy Dad was one of those guys – captain of the football team, track star, scholarship recipient, president of his fraternity and law school. He was a Winner and he expected nothing less from his only child. My Dad was also a good time guy, a loyal friend and in his youth, a wild partier who never failed to entertain me with stories of his past. It didn’t occur to me till later that those stories that delighted me so much over the years were most likely the source of my father’s biggest issues and the reason he had to quit drinking when I was five. In heindsight, it also explains why my mother never found the stories quite as entertaining as I did. 1960’s ridiculousness is probably more thrilling in theory than practice. But it was those stories, those things no one could possibly get away with today – what with the internet and background checks – that made him so awesome. My Dad was a risk taker. A balls out take no prisoners type of guy. He had fun. He was cool. He lived. Some of my favorite tales revolved around the Hospitality Inn, a resort my Dad was hired to run for two summers in his early 20’s. Qualified or not, he staffed the entire place with his friends. He was the boss and made the resort his own personal Dirty Dancing. There were tales of tightrope walking over the tennis courts, women throwing themselves into moving convertibles and an overweight teenager falling through the ceiling of a room while she eavesdropped Porky’s style on her crush getting frisky with a waitress. My Dad wasn’t just some dull, old lawyer. He had a life. He was the twist champion of Vermont. He’d owned every cool vintage car you could think of. He’d painted flames on his mother’s Cadillac and picked up his prom date on a scooter after he overheard her telling her friends she was only going with him because he had a caddy. He may be a responsible Dad now but back in the day he was The Man.

L&G SkateWhen I was little Saturdays were for me and my Dad. He said it was because my mom had me all week. Now that I’m a mom I see what a raw deal she got. I overlooked all her work and thought my Dad giving me that one day was God’s gift. But, I suppose in those days, it kind of was. At any rate, Saturday’s were for us. We’d play sports – baseball, football, track (soccer wasn’t big then like it is now) – and then go to lunch at a restaurant. My Dad was a foodie before that was a thing. Years later he was devastated when I moved from NYC to LA. Not so much because of the increased distance between us (“It’s still just a plane ride Leigh.”) but because he was going to miss the restaurants. It’s ironic that before my mother my Dad never traveled because he always seemed so international to me. I never had typical kid food when we went out. Nowadays making sure your child is exposed to different cultures seems commonplace – I know a lot of kids who’s favorite food is sushi – but at the time, having dim sum with your 7-year-old was kind of a big deal.

L&G PumpkinI remember my Dad being at all my plays and swim meets. I remember him coaching me in track before I hit high school and realized my skill level was so incredibly average I should stick to racing in the water. He always drove me to camp and took 3 weeks off in the summer to be with us at the cottage. My Dad took us on trips every year and made sure I knew how to ski and play tennis. Again, the fact that my mother spearheaded most of that was lost on me and when I was 13-15 and everything she said bugged me, the only person I could talk to without rolling my eyes was him. The sun rose and set on my Daddy. I can still picture him on Sunday afternoons, after church and donuts – apple fritter for him, hawaiian rainbow sprinkles for me – listening to Leonard Cohen and sitting in the wing chair reading the paper. It’s from that chair he would take a red pen to my essays or quiz me for exams. My Dad was a fixture in my life that I could always rely on no matter how busy he was.

L&G coffeeIt’s an interesting thing to get to know your parents as an adult. When I was a teenager I remember becoming aware of little things my Dad did like never clearing the table or doing the dishes at the cottage and calling him out on it. My mother was publicly horrified but secretly thrilled and my Dad always turned out to be very amenable to making a change. To this day he grumbles or sheepishly looks at me when I point things out, but he’s certainly not afraid of improvement. Old dog new tricks is not my father and I’ve always admired him for that.

For all his struggles, his upbringing, his disappointments, his personal demons, my Dad is a man of top quality. He’s a loving, kind, good person and I’ve never doubted his devotion to me or my family. My Dad has given his life attempting to provide the best for us and though we’ve taken some blows, he’s never stopped trying to make things happen.

L&G Cottage To this day my Dad is still the person I look to in a crisis. Even in the midst of chaos he’s able to think clearly. He’s a thoughtful and nearly unflappable man of character who’s able to steer me in the right direction without being overly dramatic (my mother), overly optimistic (my husband) or overly supportive (some of my friends). He’s able to dissect a problem piece by piece and see an issue without the cloud of emotion which bogs me down. My Dad can share a life experience in order to make a point but has mastered the art stepping back and allowing me to arrive at my own conclusions. He can tell me how it is without telling me what to do and it’s a gift. My mom’s my best friend, but in a crisis, I’m going to my Dad. His life has garnered wisdom and insight that I’ve found instrumental. This is not to say he’s perfect, he’s the first person to tell you he’s not, but he’s a real man, a noble man, a good man with a generous heart and I need him just as much today as I did when I was his little pink.

L&G Cracker HatsMy Dad has also never second guessed my decisions. Questioned them maybe, in order for me to better think things through, but always supported me whole heartedly after the decision was made. Going to grad school, dropping out of grad school, moving to New York, living as a struggling actress, moving to LA, picking my husband, becoming a writer, my life has always been mine. He’s been my safety net both emotionally and, at numerous times, financially but he’s set down very few requirements or expectations for the bigger picture. He believes in me. He believes I’ll choose correctly. His faith in me has always reinforced my faith in myself. He’s had my back at every cross road. He’s served as my foundation, supporting me as I weather the storms. At the end of the day my Dad is still my hero. For all our ups and downs, I look at him and see a man I admire, respect and will forever continue to root for.

If my father never makes it as far as he dreamed, I will carry the banner on his behalf. Even without the blinders of childhood, with full adult awareness of his faults and mistakes, I still work every day to impress my Dad. I  still crave his respect and approval because whenever I get it, I know I’ve done something truly worthwhile.

photoI love you Dad. You are a remarkable man and a testament to never giving up. Just as you say with your beloved Maple Leafs, “it ain’t over till it’s over”. You still have so much more life to live and I stand with you as you work each day to make things better.  Thank you for being such a devoted father, supportive father-in-law and extraordinary grandfather. You are important and special and I admire you so much for never ceasing to grow. I’m proud of you Dad. I’m proud to be your child and I look forward to the day I make good on the potential you’ve always seen in me.

You are my champion and I will, now and forever, always be your girl.

Happy Father’s Day.

xo Midgey

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