Calming the Holiday Frenzy

Last Tuesday I had a client spend a good part of her session talking about, none other than, mashed potatoes.  She had been rushing all morning preparing for her Thanksgiving meal; she created a schedule down to the minute  which allowed for one  hour to slip into a therapy appointment.  These in-laws are coming, those siblings are bringing this and that and she was trying to get things in order.  She had a faint memory of her mother telling her that one type of potato was better than another for the perfect mash, but she didn’t remember which was that “right” potato.  She had boiled them, drained them and begun to mash them as her husband entered the kitchen to see why she was  uttering profanity at the potatoes.

As we dissected the stress, the emotions, and the mashed potatoes it became clear that the whirlwind of anxiety was not really about the potatoes, but about her relationship with her mother, perceptions of family expectations and feelings of inadequacy.  As she finished the session, my client’s parting words were “I am so glad I didn’t skip this week. I didn’t think I’d have time to come in, but this was a well-spent hour.”

So often we project our inner inadequacies and stress onto the minutiae of our day.  I can’t imagine that road rage during the 5:00 rush hour doesn’t have something to do with a lousy day at the office or a nasty boss.  I think about all the craziness at the mall over the next few weeks and wonder about people searching for the perfect gift to heal a relationship or calm a turbulent family situation.

The holidays have arrived.  The Salvation Army folks have been ringing their bells for weeks at the Giant, wreaths are up and the endless soundtrack of Christmas music is on every radio station.  Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years are upon us.  If you are feeling overly stressed; pause.  Take a deep breath.  Think about  your last interaction or thought.   Was it the phone call from your spouse or the nastygram from  you teenager?  We are so accustomed to swallowing our emotions and having them erupt at the dinner table or the pot of mashed potatoes that we often don’t even realize  we are  upset until it is too late.

As my client said “it was an hour well spent”.  If  you are thinking that your own potatoes are about to boil over, consider giving yourself the gift of “an hour well spent”.   I don’t think you will regret it.

Happy December-ing.



Giving Thanks and Thanksgiving

Is it trite to write about Thanksgiving on the Monday before Thanksgiving? Oh, what the heck. I have so much for which to be thankful, it’s a nice reminder to pause and reflect on my blessings.

Where to start? So often we take our health for granted until we get “the call” that something is wrong.  I am so grateful for my health and that of my loved ones.  We have had our bumps in the road, but thank G-d, for today, we are well and strong and continue to laugh.

I am thankful for my family and friends, for the wonderful community in which I live, and for the opportunity to do this special work that I get to do every day.   I am truly cognizant of how fortunate I am to love my job.  I know many people who dislike their jobs and dread having to devote so much of their lives to something that makes them unhappy.

That felt nice.  Stopping to be mindful of the wonderful things that surround me on a daily basis.

On to Thursday. Or Wednesday or whenever you begin the preparations for the holiday, which for some  may have begun way before this week (or month).  I have one friend that literally has a spreadsheet for her Thanksgiving prep and meal and another friend that has been posting her daily tasks  on  Facebook throughout the week to include laundering the napkins and washing the crystal by hand.  Oy!  How have we, as a society, taken this idea of a peaceful day of thanks and turned it into bumper to bumper traffic, ridiculous lines at the airport, insanity at the grocery store, overstuffed bellies and NOW the impetus to run around the mall at all hours of the night before the dishes are done?

I can’t really answer that broad inquiry with any semblance of intelligence, but I thought it was a good question.  What I can bring to your attention is the family dynamics surrounding the turkey and mashed potatoes.  I have often shared with my clients that what we see on tv on the gravy commercial with the happy intact family all clean, thin, coiffed and usually, White, is not a real Thanksgiving.  That is the made-up dinner table with people getting paid to look the part and sell gravy.

Issues anyone?

What my clients, my friends and I experience is real life.  Sullen teens, angry great-uncles, families running from one house to the next to meet the in-law’s expectations or kids at one parents’ table on Thanksgiving only to repeat the meal on Friday due to a custody arrangement. We also see multi-racial family gatherings, same sexed parents celebrating with extended families (I dare you, gravy commercial, to portray that family) and laughter and yelling and tears and joy.   This, my friends, is Thanksgiving: American style.

Gravy commercial humor aside, Thanksgiving can be stressful for many.  As wonderful as it can be to gather amongst family,  age-old wounds can surface; hurts, tensions and emotions may run awry, especially after a few glasses of wine. I encourage my clients to be mindful of triggers and use self-care when necessary.  Sometimes a simple time-out from an overbearing relative can maintain one’s inner peace;  excuse  yourself from the table, take a walk, check on the kids, or just take some deep breaths.

I have talked  about boundaries in an earlier post and encourage you to click the link for a refresher.  There is nothing more important than setting firm boundaries.  When you are respecting your wishes and desires and standing by them,  those around you will begin to follow suit and subsequently also respect your boundaries.  It can be difficult and frightening to say “no” when it is a new behavior,  you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or rock the boat; “thanks mom, but no thank you, I don’t want a second piece of pie even though I know how hard you worked on it”, or “I am exhausted from all the cooking, so I am going to rest a bit while the rest of you clean up the dishes”.

Change is hard and many of us haven’t been taught to be mindful of our own needs, set boundaries and take care of ourselves. I can promise you that once we begin to take these essential steps of self-care, we will more readily be able to give thanks on Thanksgiving day.

Happy and healthy (both physically and emotionally) Thanksgiving to all.


The Importance of Teamwork

Let’s talk sports. No, not how the Redskins are doing (or Patriots or Steelers or anyone else that you guys are rooting for every weekend); our kids’ sports, that is.  This  goes out to the soccer moms (softball, lacrosse, hockey, dance, pick any activity that works for you).

This post popped into my head when I was driving back from Fredericksburg last weekend, or was it Charlottesville the week before, maybe it was Annandale the week before that?  As a die hard soccer mom, I have put several hundred  miles on my soccer mom van to and from infinite amounts of soccer games (and practices and tournaments).  I was watching these freshman boys the other day and smiling inside with not a doubt in my mind as to  why I do all of this shlepping.   I love watching these boys on the field,  improving their soccer skills and growing together as a team.  I love listening to 3-4 of them in the back of my van (smell aside, man do those shin guards STINK) laughing and joking and blasting their music through the Toyota’s sound system. And, it is so much fun to be at the adult table at Chic Filet or Steak and Shake (clearly I was not consulted on restaurant choices) after a game and hearing the craziness coming from the boys on the other side of the room.

Serious players

This team was formed when these boys began sixth grade, but many of them had been playing together since they were little dudes in second or third grade.  There have  been kids who have left the team and each season a couple of new players join, but as a whole  the team is a strong and unified bunch.  There are two coaches who command respect (sometimes fear after a poorly played match) and discipline, but who also play with them harder than any adults that I have ever seen.   The boys  admire the coaches as well as have fun and joke with them.  I am grateful to be part of a team that works so nicely together: the players, the coaches and the parents.  We have had our growing pains, but have settled into a nice rhythm where the team is thriving.

What is it about being on a sports team that is so special?  For one, it is keeps kids busy, out of trouble and active. Most educators and professionals espouse the value of sports for exactly those reasons.  I have seen with my clients (and my own kids) that having practice on a regular basis keeps them more diligent and consistent with their schoolwork.  Just last week a teenage client was telling me that when she doesn’t have practice she is  more apt to waste away the afternoon by napping or watching tv and not start her homework until later in the evening.   She said when she has practice it forces her to focus on her homework and get it done in a timely manner.

Another valuable part to being on a team is that kids learn to work together.  Many students complain about group projects that they have in school.  They find them annoying and difficult to orchestrate; who does which task, this one is slacking,  it’s not fair that I do all the work.  Input a team sport.   The kids need to work together to achieve the goal (and literally a GOAL).  They work at passing the ball, sharing the play and communicating both verbally and non-verbally.  Players have to think ahead, strategize and be synchronized with their fellow team mate to anticipate the next move. There is little complaining about this kind of “group project” even though it hones in on the same skills as those projects that are assigned in school.

There seems to be little drama with these teenage boys. They are boys. They act differently than adolescent girls.  They grab a ball and play.  They rarely pay attention to how they look, how they smell or how their hair falls when on the soccer field.  I have noted that some of the more quiet boys hang on the fringes of the clowning around antics, but overall the boys appear to act as a unit both on the field and off.

I believe that the bonding experience that the team provides for these boys (or any boys for that matter) is invaluable.  They don’t all go to school together, yet they are together at least four times a week.   There is a consistency to their gathering that is very healthy.  The therapist in me isn’t pretending that the boys are sharing their deepest emotions with one another, or even letting a teammate know if they are struggling in some way, but the fact that they have these bonds and know that their teammate has their back should  be reassuring to them whether they would recognize it or not.

As the team continues to  develop and  mature together both as players and young men, my hope is that they continue to learn, appreciate one another and most importantly, HAVE FUN.

Crazy kids

Having fun