Who are you?

While I was fiddling with something blog related on my laptop, my son asked me  “Who is your audience?”  I paused, I hadn’t thought about this in a while and answered “I don’t know.”

Who are you people that read these words? these sometimes silly, sometimes helpful and sometimes thoughtful or profound words?

When I started this blog, it was for  marketing purposes. I linked it to my website and hoped that a potential client might read a post and think “I like what she has to say, I think we would be a good fit.”   I try to give the client a sense of what a therapy session with me would feel like;  my approach, my style and my humor.  I want a client to feel safe and supported and I hope that I convey that through my blog posts.

Linking my posts to both my professional and personal Facebook pages gave me some more exposure.  Unbeknownst to me, people other than my mom and my friend, Shaniqua (pseudonym for confidentiality purposes), have been reading the posts.  A friend from college reached out after one of my earlier posts and commented about  how much she enjoyed reading the blog.  She asked how she could be notified when a new post was written and not risk missing it on Facebook.  I  played around with the blog settings  so that she would receive email notifications each time a new post was published (I am so technologically challenged that simply knowing the word “settings” gives me a little thrill, the fact that I can actually adjust them has got me believing that I am a full on techie genius).  My audience had thus became my mom, Shaniqua and my college friend.

Slowly, more feedback from various friends on my Facebook page began filtering back my way.  I was thrilled to learn that people were not only reading the posts, but relating to them as well.  Neighbors, moms from my daughter’s school, acquaintances  from the community would let me know that something I had said was helpful, or that they could relate to whatever parenting calamity I was ranting about in a given post.  I was recently at a networking meeting of one of  my therapist groups.  About ten women gathered at Einstein Bagel in Fairfax to network and discuss therapy related topics.  During the meeting, a colleague introduced me and said,  “Have you read her blog? It’s great”.   I later got a call from one of the women from that meeting asking advice from someone who “excels in social media”.  Once  I clarified that she had, in fact, intended to call me, I told her I was honored to help in whatever way I could (high-fiving myself about my new techie genius status).

I also started sharing blog posts on a professional group’s Facebook page.  This page is viewed  by therapists all around the Metro DC area; we exchange referrals, post articles of interest, and discuss topics pertaining to our clinical work . My hope is that my colleagues can get a sense of my work via my blog and will feel comfortable referring clients to me that they see as a good fit for my practice.

I have a little secret: I am finding that I enjoy this writing.  I sit for hours seeking the right word or trying to make a sentence be meaningful. It is only when I realize that a child for whom I am legally responsible might need some dinner that I pull myself away from the keyboard and return to manic mom.  As I write, I am able to carefully put words to what has become automatic in my therapeutic work. I  retell a story about educating a parent on how to set firm limits with his angry teen or I disclose how I replace strength and esteem back into a woman whose spirit has been beaten down.  This process is showing me how far I have come in this work; how my skills have improved and matured and how I continue to develop as a therapist. My growth as a clinician enables me to nurture and heal my clients, heal them to grow into the people that they aspire to be.

To answer my son’s question I have realized that my audience is wide and varied.  My audience consists of friends, family (mom, at least), clients, colleagues and, honestly, ME, a lot of this is just for ME.


Mother Daughter Group #2

We had our second Mother Daughter Group last night and it was really fantastic.  I was a bit worried that Hurricane Sandy was going to pre-empt our event, but I was pleasantly surprised that not only did Sandy  not interfere with our plans, but she also cancelled school for today so our evening was more relaxed and no one had to rush home to make lunches, do homework and get the girls to  bed.  (Then again, I do believe that I am probably the one that gets most anxious about Sunday  night events to which my friends will attest, but that is another post altogether).

Last night’s event took place at my house.  We had planned a Halloween gathering with costumes, crafts and spooky food.

The girls and  moms arrived in costumes with a great deal energy, carrying bags and platters and treats.  We began the evening in the basement with a craft I had found online from Martha Stewart.  I first had to explain to the girls who Martha is, and then proceeded to inform them that I am in no way, shape or form anywhere  similar to the insanely compulsive Queen of the Craft (although, I may beg to differ about the creator of the sweets pictured above).

Other than the glitter all over my basement for the next 6 years, and the gold speckled toilet that the girls decided to adorn while washing their hands, the sparkle pumpkins were a huge success.

Our next move was dinner.  I had grown tired of cardboard box pizza, so I whipped up some pasta and garlic bread while others contributed salad and sides.  The girls laughed and chatted away in the kitchen while the moms gathered in my dining room. At one point, the moms were laughing so hard that we were blatantly hushed by the girls.  I gather we are bonding quite well, but are not supposed to out-fun our 6th grade daughters.

After dinner we retreated back into the basement and gathered for some discussion.  Our jumping off point was to explain to the girls that traditional religious Jewish people don’t celebrate Halloween  (read here  for more information about the religious basis for depriving sheltering some religious Jewish kids from abundant Reeses and Three Musketeer Bars). We reminded the girls that had gone to Jewish pre-schools that they weren’t allowed to dress up for Halloween in pre-school, nor was there any mention of Halloween in the pre-school craft curriculum.

We then bridged the discussion to how the girls feel in December being the only (which they all seem to be) Jewish student in their secular school classes.  There was a lively discussion about what it is like to be unique or different amongst your classmates.  It was wonderful to see the girls sharing and participating where the month before their discussion had been a bit more guarded.  They all seemed engaged and interested in sharing and hearing what others had to say.

Dessert was next and then we finished up with one more craft.  The girls had all brought a black and white photo of themselves and proceeded to create these fun projects:

As they left and I did a bit of clean up (the glitter-mess still awaits me in the basement), I felt so  proud of the whole evening.  Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and have a nice time.  As the girls gathered up their costume remains and crafts, I heard them talking about what our plans will be for next month.  The sign of success!


Girlfriends

Girlfriends can be a lifeline for many women.  We seek out our girlfriends when we need advice on anything from parenting to shoes, when we need a shoulder to cry on or confirmation that the men in our lives are being jerks.  Our friends are there to listen to us vent or to make us laugh until our stomach hurts.  Our girlfriends provide us with support, validation and good times.

Many of us have friends from different times in our lives.  Childhood friends that still remember us in pigtails and call us by our maiden names; several friends from my old stomping ground in Boston draw a blank when hearing about this Laurie “Levine” person (people, it’s been over 20 years). We have college friends, friends that we made at work, in the neighborhood or through our children.   The first time I was called “Adam L’s mom” by a pre-schooler and his mom, I knew that I was in foreign territory.

I work with many women who talk about their friendships during therapy sessions.  They have been hurt or slighted or angered by their friend and choose to examine their emotional reaction to the interaction in this safe and non-judgmental environment. It is not uncommon for women to struggle with the old feelings that many of us had as youngsters; “where do I fit in?”,   “am I cool/thin/smart/rich/fill-in-the-blank enough?”  Why do we as women continue to doubt ourselves in our friendships and in our relationships with other women?

A common question that I ask all clients upon the intake and assessment process is who is their support network: where are your people?  I am saddened to say that there are women who report to not having a support network.  Sometimes they blame it on work, or being busy or sometimes they simply don’t desire a social circle.  But, often their isolation is due to shyness, depression or not knowing where or how to find a friend. Together we discuss what they would like in a friend, how they would go about finding a friend and why they think it is so hard to open up and make a friend.

I have had other women clients  talk about friendships ending, like a “break up” with a boyfriend.  I conceptualize this cooling off period in a friendship like a couple that separates; after years of having sex with this partner, it’s hard to go back to holding hands.   There isn’t a term for the ‘break up’ with our women friendships: we drifted?, parted ways?  It can be awkward, uncomfortable and extremely painful. Life transitions are a traditional time of  shifting friendships: a marriage, the birth of a child or a divorce or death of a spouse.  We tend to befriend those with similar lifestyles; the mommies in playgroup or the empty-nesters that travel together.

Sometimes though, the ending of a friendship can be more personal such as a disagreement that can’t be resolved or when one feels that her needs in the relationship are not being met and she needs to extricate herself from the friendship as an act of self-care. I have a client that says she “leaves friendship corpses in her wake”.  She worries about fluctuating friendships and what that says about herself as a friend.  We have talked  about what a healthy friendship looks like, how she can get her needs met and how to set boundaries when appropriate.  We have also practiced conflict resolution in therapy sessions. She has successfully negotiated some difficult relationships after talking it through in therapy. This helped her gain the skills and confidence to approach  an important friend and honestly share her concerns about the conflict at hand.   (Needless to say, I am very proud of this client who may or may not be reading this post.)

Another client has talked to me about feeling like a third wheel.  She tears up as she tells me about her very close friend that she introduced to another of her good friends  because she thought they would hit it off.  They hit it off so well, that they buddied up  to the exclusion of my client.  They vacation together and text daily and when my client joins them for lunch, she feels excluded and left out.   The heartbreak is palpable.  My client is sad and resentful; something many women feel when enduring the pain of losing a friend.

Many of us have witnessed our kids, particularly daughters endure this kind of pain.   We expect this kind of behavior in children, pre-teens and teens.  The reality is that it happens with adults as well.  Many of us carry old wounds and vulnerabilities into our adult friendships.  What pushed our buttons in 8th grade, if not healthily resolved, is going to be promptly reignited as an adult.   The hope is that we have matured and worked through our decades old insecurities of adolescence, but there are some wounds that hover longer and reach deeper than others.  Having constantly been the shy girl that doesn’t know how to reach out can rear its ugly head at the PTA meeting or that loud girl with no filter may continue to offend her friends at the office.

I cherish my friends. I know I have made mistakes and I work hard at righting my wrongs and working through difficult times no matter how painful or awkward because I honestly know that I can not make it in this wacky world without my friends.  I hope that you, too, have enjoyed this gift of friendship: the joy, the fulfillment and the laughter.


Generating Generations

8 couples

21 Kids

25 years

We adults met in college. 6 of us married from within, the others added spouses from other learning institutions around the nation.  We went on to graduate school, jobs and establishing roots in our respective communities in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Atlanta and Texas.

Early on we bonded through weekend gatherings or long phone calls on telephones tethered to a wall.  A decade later there was reconnecting via Facebook, sending emails and attempts at texts (once our kids taught us how). There seemed to be a wedding, a reunion or a bris every few years to gather bits and pieces of us together.

We congregated this past weekend in New York for one of the offspring Bar Mitzvahs. After many years and  several states separating us, within seconds of the first hug it was like we were back in the dorm, teasing, laughing and enjoying our college family that has multiplied in size and deepened in closeness over time.

The 21 kids range in ages from 17 to 2  years old (yes, some of us started later than others) including a set of triplets from Texas and a pair of twins living in New York.  Most of the parents are lawyers (birds of a feather?), but we mix it up with some doctors, a nurse, a financial planner and of course, yours truly, therapist extraordinaire. Some of the kids know each other better than others due to either vacationing together or  because they live in closer proximity to one another, but none of the families reside in the same community. The New York contingency has a traditional Friday of Thanksgiving outing where whoever is in town gets together for a day in the city.  We Virginia folk often host our Brooklyn compadres  during winter break.

What typically happens at these big parties, like this weekend’s Bar Mitzvah, is we pile the kids in a room together with chips and a Playstation after the celebratory event at the host’s home.  They  play and talk and resort to the same ridiculous banter that their fathers did 20 years ago.  We adults reminisce, enjoy our traditional New York delicacies of pizza and cannoli  and continue to catch up and harass the kids.

The relationships between the adults and kids are unique; we are family, all comfortable and familiar. All of the parents are referred to by their first names and the kids become one big collective unit. I often find myself barking orders at any random minor to clean up his or her mess as readily as I lay into my own dear cherubs.

On the subway Sunday morning, I eavesdropped upon a conversation between my husband and the Texan triplets. They were asking about their dad’s prior girlfriends before “mom” during our college days.  My husband enthusiastically embarrassed their dad, his buddy, with antics and stories about daddy dearest’s younger days. “Y’all are all so weirdly alike” says the Texan teenager  to my husband referring to her dad and the rest of the odd menfolk in our midst.  Meanwhile my kids are chatting up some of the other adults, making sure to highlight their favorite mother’s grandest parenting moments be it embarrassing them at sporting events or failing to pack the perfect school lunch.

Offspring riding the subway

The weekend was  warm and genuine.  The kids and adults were removed from the stress of work and school.  They truly were among family, in some ways easier than being with blood family because we could embrace the closeness and the camaraderie without some of the baggage inherent in a true family reunion (not to say we haven’t had our share of drama over these 25 years, but somehow it seems different than when Great Aunt Dora is nagging Grandpa Bob over the China dishes willed to them by their ancestors from the old country). I heard some people talking about their upcoming Thanksgiving Friday and others suggesting a trip sometime in the spring.  I know there are a few more Bar/Bat Mitzvahs on the horizon where different permutations of our extended group  will gather once again.  Whatever the occasion, it is nice to see that we are creating this safe and fun loving group for ourselves and for our kids.

A splattering of parents and kids


The Parenting Trip

Parenting; the greatest, the scariest and the most frustrating journey one can embark on.

A friend of mine stationed in Hawaii had a baby last week.  Pictures of her beautiful infant are showing up on my FB page every few days.  I see his teeny tiny hands, that newborn face and his hospital issued hat and remember those early days of parenting.  I was exhausted; I was falling in love with my infant; I was learning how to be a mom.  During those days, I had a neighbor whose kids were in pre-school.  She always said to me “just you wait”.  I was irked by her words of warning.  I wanted to simply take in the joy; I had no doubt that the ride would get bumpier, but for the moment, I just wanted to coast.

I currently sublet my office space from an agency that facilitates groups for people battling substance abuse issues. While walking through the waiting area this week, I bumped into someone I know from the community.  This woman is strong and beautiful and in-charge.  She appeared to be swallowed up by one of the oversized couches in the waiting room looking worn out, exhausted and spent.  This  woman was waiting for her teenager who was having an assessment with one of the substance abuse counselors.  This is the scary and frustrating part of parenting. The great part is on other days: when your child runs up to you with a big hug, laughs with you during an episode of Modern Family or texts that he got an A on his math test.  Recognizing that your child has a need for the Recovery Center is not a great part of the parenting trip.

The other night a client’s father, out of pure frustration, yelled me at.  His eyes were glaring at me, his face beat red,  “We have done everything we can for her, I don’t know what else to do.”  The frustration and fear evident in his words and his tone. This man’s vision for his little girl has not come to fruition.  Whether he had hoped she may be an all “A” student or captain of the lacrosse team, he is instead living with a girl that is angry, defiant and causing physical destruction in their home as well as emotional chaos within the family.

Scary and frustrating moments happen in every household not just the ones that write the therapy checks.  Our kindergarteners get on a bus for the first time and leave our side, our toddlers have temper tantrums, sometimes on a daily basis and our teens learn to drive.  The not great days are supposed to happen; it is how we learn, how our kids learn and how we master many of life’s tasks.  How else could we appreciate, really cherish the beautiful moments if we didn’t have the fear and frustration on the other side?   As high-school seniors marched into graduation this past spring, every parent was beaming with pride; memories of  “D”‘s on report cards during sophomore year or missed curfews earlier that winter had been buried.  The great moments, the really special days are the ones to remember, to embrace and to remind and assure us that the crazy trip  that we call parenting is a long and winding road that, G-d willing, lands us in the lap of grandparenthood.