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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

Blink of an Eye

For my birthday Sean bought tickets to the Hollywood Bowl. 10 years in LA and I’ve never been. Every year I say, “You know what I really want to do this year? Go to the Hollywood Bowl” and every year we never quite get around to it. Life’s like that. Best intentions and all that. This year though Sean took that extra step and actually bought the tickets to John Williams conducting the LA Philharmonic and I was so excited. Maestro Williams conducting a collection of his greatest movie scores – Star Wars, Jaws, ET, Superman, etc. – a tribute to Henry Mancini and Blake Edwards and the evening hosted by Mary Poppin’s herself  (Mr. Edward’s widow), Dame Julie Andrews. It was a marvelous. We had our picnic basket, our wine & cheese, our squares of after dinner chocolate. The night was gorgeous and warm and Sean and I were able to relax and reconnect in a way you can’t do at a traditional movie or dinner. It was magical and, as the music swelled and images swirled on the screens, my hand interlocked with my husband’s, I looked up to the heavens (and I say that without dramatics because there is a lot of sky at the Bowl just begging to be spoken to) and said a silent prayer to God for how happy and lucky I was.

The Bowl really does look like this shot from alumniconnections.com

The Bowl really does look like this shot from alumniconnections.com

Near the end of the concert, while the light saber wielding crowd delighted to the multiple scores from Star Wars, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. Sean told me to hurry or I’d miss it, so I scooted out of our seats and hustled to the closest washroom which, because we were technically in a theatre built into a cliff, turned out to be up an extremely steep hill. As I arrived at my location I was instantly aware I’d made a terrible error in judgement. I found myself hopelessly out of breath. Like, really out of breath. Once in the stall I put my head between my legs hoping to counterbalance my lightheadedness but it didn’t work. I couldn’t get a full breath and I couldn’t think my way out of it. No matter how hard I tried to calm down and breath normally I couldn’t will myself better, and it quickly became clear I was going to pass out. I knew I had to get out of the stall or people would simply ignore me thinking I was just some drunk girl who’d passed out while the timpani banged out Darth Vader’s theme. I crawled out of the stall on my hands and knees and just before I lost consciousness I saw one pair of shoes in a stall down the way. She’d find and help me right? With that I let go and fell from my hands and knees to my shoulder and face.  When I came to I was lying on the bathroom floor (the bathroom floor!!! Gross! My poor skin!), my head was killing me and those shoes hadn’t moved at all. I lay there looking at those sensible, beige pumps while my breath normalized and by the time she came out I was sitting up leaning against the wall.

I left this cuteness to go pass out in the bathroom. What a fool I am!

I left this cuteness to pass out in the bathroom. What a fool I am!

Not surprisingly she ignored me. I’m not sure what she thought I was doing. If I was 10 years older I’m sure she would have asked if I was ok, but being younger I think she couldn’t help but silently judge me. I look too healthy to have anything really wrong with me right? She left and I said nothing. When I finally had the energy to stand up I washed my hands, splashed water on my face and slowly made my way back down to Sean. He looked at me when I got back as if to say “Where have you been?” and I burst into tears. I felt completely traumatized. Just thinking about it replayed in detail how awful it had been to be unable to breathe, to know I couldn’t help myself and to be reminded that no matter how happy I was, I was also really sick. That, combined with the fact my head was absolutely throbbing where I’d hit it, caused me to silently sob through the second encore while Sean packed up our stuff.

My bump. It hurt for a week. I even needed a brain scan to rule out a bleed. Post concussive syndrome!

My bump. It hurt for a week. I even needed a brain scan to rule out a bleed. Post concussive syndrome!

The next day my head was a sight to behold. It looked as if I’d had a derma implant with a golf ball. My shoulder was aching and I was so overwhelmingly tired that my parenting consisted of allowing Loch watch TV all day. As a side note, he told me it was “THE BEST DAY EVER!!!” Around 4:30 I texted Sean, who had left our house at 6am for work in the desert, to come home. My text read: When do you think you might be home? I don’t mean to alarm you but I think I have a slight concussion. As I lay in my bed waiting for his answer, the sounds of Phinnus & Ferb drifting into the room, I started to think about how quickly things can change. Here I was moments before saying my silent prayer to God about how wonderful my life was and then, without warning my disease, physically and metaphorically, knocked me me on my a*#. Or in this case, my head.

Things have a way of changing instantaneously. For the good and the bad. I knew on our first date I’d marry Sean. The world just shifted. I walked out of the restaurant with a different life than when I’d walked in. I grew a baby in my body for almost 10 months but was the same girl until the night I went from being just Leigh to Loch’s Mom. I went to the doctor 6 months later thinking I’d developed asthma and 4 hours later was told I had 2-3 years to live. It can all change in the blink of an eye. Everything can shift in a heartbeat and that knowledge should act as a reminder not just to appreciate every great moment, but also not to get too mired down in the dismal ones. What do they say? The only constant in life is change?

I'm writing a memoir myself. The strength and bravery it must have taken for Matthew to have written this one is inspiring.

I’m writing a memoir myself. The strength and bravery it must have taken for Matthew to have written this one is inspiring.

I was recently at Target cooling my heels while Loch entertained himself in the toy aisles and I picked up a book called Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Matthew Logelin. It was the story of a husband who lost his wife to a random brain embolism the day their daughter was born. Written from his perspective I was pulled into the immediacy of the chapter of when it all went down. He vividly expresses the confusion he felt when his wife collapsed walking the halls of the hospital. How helpless and angry he was as the doctors buzzed around while the code alarm blared through the halls. How surreal it felt making calls to people expecting the happy “we just had the baby” song to the “you better get down here they don’t think she’s going to make it” terror. When his wife dies he describes the floor opening up, the fury he felt towards the placating grief councilor, the horror of the realization that he was now completely alone with their newborn, his devastation knowing his new daughter would never know her spectacular mom and the utter confusion that drowned him trying to rectify how his perfectly healthy wife could just be gone. I found myself moved to tears right there in the superhero aisle.

I know what it’s like to have your life open under you. To feel as if you’re drowning in your own reality. Reading Matthew’s words however, I was also reminded of how lucky I am. How different my story could have gone – could still go – and how very much I must try to appreciate every day. People are always saying, “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow”  and though you probably won’t, metaphorically the possibility is there. Things change and things can change quickly. Whenever I’m feeling upset I often think back to the days I was told I wasn’t going to live and my perspective immediately shifts. I do this when I’m mad at people too. How would I feel if they were gone? If I could no longer speak to them? It’s hard to stay mad when you consider the alternative and count your blessings. photo copy 2 That being said however, I think it’s too much to ask of ourselves to appreciate every day, to always be in the moment, to live only in the present and to appreciate everyone all the time. I believe it’s a noble thing to attempt and something we can all hopefully accomplish at various moments in our life, but I don’t think we should put pressure on ourselves to be zen in every instance. When we do that it just becomes yet another thing to get down on ourselves for, to feel we’re failing at.  I think the big picture is simple awareness and the acknowledgement that nothing ever remains static. If your life is good, be grateful. If your life is tough, be hopeful. Try not to dwell. Keep moving and growing. Appreciate and celebrate the moments and people that bring you joy. Tell people you love them. Be kind to others. Create memories and relationships that will live on after you’re gone. Make the most of your life because you’re not getting another one and it can all change on a dime.

Passing out on the floor of a bathroom reminded me to take stock of all I have to be grateful for. That no matter where I’d like my future to go, I must appreciate my current reality and truly saver my moments because I don’t know how this is going to play out. Passing out forced me to stop and acknowledge my reality and, for better or worse, embrace it. I may dream of a bright future but I have to care for myself in my present so I’m around to enjoy it.

For now that means more unique dates with my husband and not walking up hills at speed.

Duh.

xo leigh

photo copy 3

Lost Causes

I had a favorite aunt growing up. You know the one. The cool aunt. Growing up she was my absolute favorite family member. I adored her. She was 11 years younger than my mom and gorgeous and totally with it. She’d been a model and actress and for me the sun basically rose and set on her. Over the years she and her husband joined us on our family trips. We’d visit her at my Grandmother’s cottage. I’d spend hours pacing outside her bedroom waiting for her to wake up. We’d celebrate holiday’s and special occasions.  She was wonderful. I was never more excited than when she was joining us.  As time passed however her relationship with my mother became strained. They couldn’t see eye to eye over the care of my grandmother and the control of her finances and things became increasingly tense. They stopped joining us for events and holidays. There were no more trips, communication broke down and things were said that were difficult to forget. Essentially, as it is with many family dramas, it came down to money. As I understand it my aunt felt cheated out of a part of her inheritance because my grandmother decided to include me in her will. She felt my mother had somehow deliberately (and maliciously) orchestrated it and, despite the fact that many of my friends had received inheritances from their grandparents, my aunt felt grandchildren were not typically included in wills and she was the one losing out. My mother tried to keep me out of it. It was her hope I could remain a neutral party retaining a relationship with my beloved aunt despite the fact that hers had broken down. As I saw it, my mother went above and beyond to make sure my aunt felt compensated and taken care of and I kept believing the whole thing would blow over. It didn’t. In the end my aunt made it clear that I had to choose between her version of the story and my mother’s. There was no middle ground and this summer when I wrote her to see if Loch and I could visit when we were home, she turned me down. She didn’t want to see me. Family dramas are terrible, hurtful things. Family is supposed to look out for one another but all too often – especially around care of the elderly and questions regarding money – things have a way of going off the rails.

my2ndheartbeat.wordpress.com

my2ndheartbeat.wordpress.com

The thing is, even with all signs pointing to let it go, it’s over, it’s never going to happen, I still believe the relationship is salvagable. I just don’t believe in lost causes. Look, I was told I had a maximum of 3 years to live and I’m still here. Who knows how long I have left but I don’t believe it’s a done deal. I realize there are times in life when you have to just walk away. When you say hey, it’s time. I can’t change this. Things are not going to be different and I can’t beat myself against the wall any longer. There may be times like that but I don’t believe this is one of those times. I think if you aren’t ready to give up, you have to continue to fight, to hope, to believe.

raneedillon.blogspot.com

raneedillon.blogspot.com

I have a old friend in Toronto who’s battling metastatic breast cancer. They’ve found it in her breast, lungs, and kidneys. It’s aggressive and hideous and my heart is broken for her. Two girls from my High School died this summer of a similar thing. I recognize the threat is real. I know terrible things happen to good people every day. I know being a mother, or a wife or a dear friend doesn’t make you safe. I realize my friend is dealing with a terrible diagnosis but I also know that miracles happen every day and I choose to believe she can be one of those miracles. It’s not over until it’s over.

Recently I spoke to a friend who’s struggling with her place in the world. What she should do. Who she is. What direction her life should go. She told me she believes people are only able to be positive when things are on an upswing. That without the upswing, it’s difficult not to get mired down in the negatives. I thought a lot about that. In many ways I suppose it’s partly true. I struggle on days when I’m feeling really sick or things aren’t looking good. My hopefulness has a way of becoming clouded by fear and doubt and I’ve been known to wallow.

istopforsuffering.wordpress.com

istopforsuffering.wordpress.com

That being said however, I’ve never stayed in that place for very long. Even before I was sick, when my career or love life was in shambles, I never felt hopeless or believed things wouldn’t eventually work out. I believed I just had to keep working till my life met my dreams and, in those cases, I think the positivity came before the upswing. I believe my attitude changed my circumstances and not the other way around. I’m convinced that’s how I met Sean, how I found writing and, for the most part, how I’ve learned to live with my disease. Talking to my friend it was as if she no longer believed anything good could happen. Every hopeful thing I said was met with caustic, laughable disbelief. It was like throwing a life ring to a drowning person who keeps kicking it away. She seemed adrift in a sea of hopelessness and it was exhausting to watch. It’s hard to help someone who refuses to be helped.

Thinking back I hope I just caught her on a bad day. That, despite her attitude, she doesn’t see her future happiness as impossible. I hope she’s not buying the “everything is crap and always will be” line she seemed to be selling. I hope there’s still a part of her that sees her amazing potential. A small voice that trusts all her education and passion will eventually be rewarded. A hidden part of her psyche that believes she’s worthy of love and that the tragic events of her past don’t define her. That’s what I see when I look at her. Despite all her confusion and negativity she’s an amazing person, and if she could just believe in herself, I know she’d find her way.

thecoverjunkie.com

thecoverjunkie.com

I have hope. I hope my aunt realizes one day a mistake’s been made. That she forgives my mother for her supposed slight and my mother is able to forgive her for everything that came after. I dream my son will get to know the woman I loved so much and we will have the opportunity to reconnect. I believe a friend of mine who seems to have moved past our 20-plus year friendship will eventually come back to me because we have too much history to let  things go so easily. I pray a miracle makes my friend cancer free and she’s able to recover and raise her adorable twin girls. Finally, I have faith my genius friend will eventually find her place in the world, set down roots and believe in love again.

I don’t believe in lost causes. I believe in hope.

Look at me, I’m still planning to have grandchildren.

xo leigh

favim.com

favim.com

The Opposite of Young

I’ve just spent the past 5 weeks in Toronto with my parents. Every summer Loch and I come to Canada to cottage, camp and all things Canadian and Sean joins us when he can. It’s a lovely time. My parents live so far away that what would be horrifying to most grown children – weeks and weeks of condensed one on one time, living and functioning within your parent’s house, car and life – feels like a real treat to me. I love my parents but, almost more importantly, I truly like them. I really appreciate our time together. They are terrific hosts and incredibly gracious with their hospitality.

Lately though I’ve become aware that, despite their young looks and perky demeanors, the fact of the matter is they’re getting older and that thought concerns me. What does our future look like? What’s my plan? What’s their plan? How much time do we really have left together? I understand getting older is a normal and unavoidable fact of life but it also – drastically or gradually – changes how we live and that’s something we’ll have to plan. At this point both my parents (and my in-laws for that matter) are still sharp and enthusiastic but I can’t pretend this stage of life is infinite. I have to consider a strategy to best prepare for their later years and remind myself to truly enjoy the time we still have left together.

old-woman-at-paris-cafe

I’d so much rather be this lady….

Our culture – unlike the Asian cultures who seem to be great with their elderly – doesn’t have a strong history of positively supporting our senior citizens. As I touched on in my last post, we are a culture of youth. We celebrate and chase it. We pay billions of dollars to look it. As a group we have a habit of putting away our old people, quietly moving them off to homes and hospitals so as to avoid firsthand interaction with the perceived ugliness of aging. My mom used to say, “As soon as I get old and senile ship me off. I don’t want to be a burden!” Her only stipulation was I not put her in the country. “Nothing to look at and nothing to do.” My mom has always requested a retirement home in the heart of the city so she can sit on a bench and watch the world go by. She wants to be able to take her little old self to restaurants and the theatre and not just be stuck in the green pastures of the country like some prize bull living out her days amongst the trees. My Grandmother was against homes altogether, she’d say, “Why would I want to live in a home? It’s full of old people.”

Than this one.

Than this one.

In my perfect future I don’t ship anyone off. I’m able to have my parents near me as they age and pay their bills and visit and care for them as much as I can. They have always taken care of me and I would very much like to return the favor. My mom is my dearest friend. I want to sit and talk with her until the end. The house of my dreams has a large guest house for my (or Sean’s) parents to visit any time but I’m also aware of my limitations. Realistically I’m not equipped to be anyone’s full time caregiver. I watched my mom spend a minimum of 4-5 days a week taking care of my Grandmother (as well as a Great Aunt) for at least 15 years before she died and I’m not sure I’m selfless enough to do the same. It’s a different world now. At the very least, I can’t imagine having that kind of time. Currently, we don’t even live in the same city. How do I work that out? It concerns me. At the end of the day I’m an only child who loves her parents and no matter how the cards shake out for us (provided I don’t go before them – which is another issue) their needs will fall to me alone and I can only hope I’m able to rise to the occasion. As it turns out best intentions do not pay private nursing bills.

Luxury-and-Beautiful-Lobby-Hotel-Interior-Design-of-The-Portofino-Hotel-and-Yacht-Club-Redondo-Beach-California

Why couldn’t an old folks home look like this place on californiamarkt.com? I believe that is a legitimate question.

The thing is, I love old people. I always have. When I was younger I used to give the “Cutie Pie Grandpa Award” to elderly men I thought were adorable. It wasn’t a real award. I would just say it out loud to my parents. There was an extended period of time when I considered creating top notch old folks homes. Buildings with style and elegance and amazing food. I’d run it like a cruise or a high end hotel. Numerous restaurants. 3 different seatings. Activities all day. A beautiful pool. I’d look to hire kind, well paid staff. Medical facilities would be on site. There would be exciting day trips and evening events with proper wheel chair accessible transportation. Do you know my wonderful 96 year old Great Aunt can’t go on any of her home’s outings because they only charter school buses? School buses! How does someone who uses a walker or a wheel chair get on a school bus?! It’s ridiculous. We’re often so thoughtless when it comes to old people. My residences would have beautiful lobbies, floor to ceiling windows in every room and would be situated in centers of busy, metropolitan cities. It would cost a fortune but would be something people could plan for like a big trip or a new house. Most assisted living is so depressing, I really thought we could do better. I wanted a place I’d be ok sending my parents or, more personally, a place I would be happy going myself.

rl05Recently an art exhibit caught my attention on Facebook. Tom Hussey created a series of works of elderly people looking in a mirror and seeing a reflection of their younger selves. It was beautifully done. A powerful and noble way to remind us that the old people we so easily overlook were once young, viable individuals with their own power and worth. I’m sure when I look in mirror later in life I’ll think “Who’s that old lady?” My mom says she already does that. The thing is no matter how old we become or how much our bodies let us down, inside we are still that teenager, 20-something, young mother or strapping young man. Even Sean, who’s barely in his mid-30’s, recently said, “I feel weak. I used to be so much stronger than this.” It’s strange when things we’ve always taken for granted start to become an effort. My illness makes my limits similar to that of an older person as far as physicality, strength and exercise and I’ve become accustomed to it. I don’t like it but I’ve accepted it. A couple of weeks ago however I had to stop my Dad from doing something I knew he was no longer strong enough to accomplish without getting hurt and he was annoyed. I understood but I think it’s important to know our limitations and acknowledge that they will inevitably change. I’m of the opinion that choosing acceptance over embarrassment and frustration makes things infinitely less irritating and disappointing. Look, I was a competitive swimmer and lifeguard and nowadays I barely go in the water without a noodle or a life jacket. I used to teach people to swim and now I’m so weak I could easily drown. It’s a blow to the ego to be sure but I’d rather float around in the shallow end than lose my life to pride.

rl04I loved Hussey’s photographs because they seemed to respect both versions of the person. Who we are and who we were being essentially the same. We may look different but that young person is still there if we want them to be. I think I also responded to the work because the pictures illustrate what I so often do in my head. Often when I see older people, particularly men, it’s a younger person I recognize. Intellectually I know the person is old, but for some reason, they don’t look old to me. It’s an unconscious thing. I’m not trying to be deep or understanding. It’s just what happens. What’s interesting to me is that it doesn’t always work. Sometimes I’m completely unable to see the young person and I’ve come to the conclusion it’s because the young person no longer exists. It’s as if the individual has allowed their essence, their fire, to be snuffed out. In resigning themselves to being an “old person” that’s exactly what they’ve become. It reminds me of that quote: We don’t stop playing because we get old. We get old because we stop playing. I feel as if you see that in action all the time.

uncanxietyclinic.com

uncanxietyclinic.com

Aging frightens me. I worry for myself but, because I’m sick and still in my 30’s, more realistically and immediately I worry for my parents. Nobody wants to be a burden. No one wants to lose their mind or forget who people are. We’d all like to be spared the indecencies and humiliation of needing help with our most basic human functions. I always said when I got really old I wanted to buy a house with my friends. A big, old mansion with lots of rooms. We’d hire a nurse and a chef. When someone’s children or grandchildren came to visit we would all be able to enjoy their company because everyone would be special to us. My friend’s children are part of my life. I’d be thrilled to see them just as my friends would be thrilled to see Loch. When someone eventually passed on we would have each other to lean on and help through the heartache and transition. I recognize I might not make it to a ripe old age, but if I did, I think being safely taken care of in a home of my choosing, surrounded by friends and family would be a lovely way to finish my golden years.

There’s a Bette Midler Song called “Hello in There” in which she laments the passing of time and the end of so many things we once deemed important. She speaks of the longing of the elderly not to be left alone or forgotten. She sings:

annetteiren.com

annetteiren.com

You know old trees just grow stronger.

And old rivers grow wilder every day.

But old people, they just grow lonesome.

Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there. Hello.”

We all want to pretend we’ll be young forever but the truth is no matter how much we work out or how many vials of botox go in our faces, eventually age will catch up with us. I believe the key is to acknowledge the physical change while still holding on to our metaphysical essence, and to respect age while we’re young so we can respect ourselves when we’re old. I believe if we honor our elderly now we give others the tools and inspiration to honor us when the roles are reversed.

At least, that’s what I keep telling myself…

xo leigh

pg_41e_-__man_-_showing_progressive_aging

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

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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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