Cousins

cousins 3

My favorite photos of all the Thanksgiving/Chanukah/Thanksgivukkah photos that have been flying around the internet this week has been the “cousins” photo.  Happy kids embracing one another and smiling big for the camera.  I saw cousins on the beach, cousins in snow, cousins around a turkey and menorahs, cousins piled on couches and more.

What is it about these happy cousins that warms my heart?  (For the record, I didn’t grow up with cousins.  I have two first cousins a decade plus younger than me that lived far away.)  I watch my kids and their cousins and love the connection they all have.  Their ages range from college to toddler and yet, there is still a sweetness and camaraderie amongst them.

As adults, we siblings, enjoy seeing our kids connect with each other.  Since cousins often live in separate communities  and/or states there is the loving, fun and “vacation” mentality that they enjoy with one another without the day-to-day conflict that we see amongst siblings.  There is less competition, need to share and work together with cousins. Cousins spend a week at the beach together,  bond at holidays and other family gatherings that are surrounded by fun, celebration and low stress.

Although  many extended families have their share of tension, it seems like the young generation of cousins is spared the age old family spats and disagreements.  The cousins don’t care that their great aunt whoever has a ten year grudge against uncle so-and-so; they just care about giggling, beating their older cousin at the X-box and warm memories of these annual events.

I do hope that you and your family had a wonderful holiday  and their was some good cousin time shoved into the mix.

cousins 2


Thanksgiving Thoughts

tgiving

The football game is on.  One kid is sitting  with me doing  homework, one is getting ready for bed and the college kid is home stirring up the pot that we call home.  It’s louder, sassier and more chaotic when we are all here under one roof, but it is The Nut House as we know it  and I wouldn’t trade it (well, most days).

Many of my friends and clients have endured the big transition of sending a child off to college and figuring out the ‘new normal’ with a less than full house.  I’ve heard talk about accidentally setting too many plates at the table, having to rework a grocery list to accommodate less mouths and scheduling a Skype call for  birthday celebrations.

Enter Thanksgiving Break.  The college kid comes home and sleeps his way through the early morning bus runs that the siblings must suffer for the first part of the week, the bathroom schedule is upended and there are suddenly 137 shoes and jackets to trip over  as opposed to the mere 82 that have become my routine land mines.    This ‘new normal’ that most families have adapted to throughout the fall is now interrupted and we all transition again.

It’s only been three months and yet the college kid has done a one-eighty.  An entirely new living situation, meal routine and academic regiment.  New friends, infinite experiences, unbridled freedom and yet, now their parents want to know where they are.

I read a discussion online by a group of parents of freshman about whether to enforce a curfew when their child was home for break.  I read another discussion from another group of parents worrying about their freshman being able to negotiate the airport and all that entails to arrive safely home to their excited, worried and wanting-to-parent-but-not-sure-how  parents.

Once again, it will be a learning experience for all of us, parents and kids alike.  A beautiful and brilliant woman reminded me “one day he will be a parent and he will know that you yelled at him out of fear. Until then – just think about how we felt when we were 18 and so desperate to prove that we could manage by ourselves, and how galling it was to find out that we couldn’t”.

Happy and healthy Thanksgiving to all of the new freshman, their loving parents and everyone else that happens to still be reading.


Bucket List Part 2

bucket

As I was saying here, we rushed back to the Labor and Delivery Room all excited.  The “coaching” team got ready by charging phones and cameras and having, what we all thought would be, our last minute potty stops.

Mama was feeling fine; relatively pain free and resting nicely.  The nurse had checked her while we had been at lunch and said that she had dilated to 9.5 centimeters.   Another nurse came in and set up a table with  many  shiny, silver  scissor- type-plier things (they all looked the same to me, but I was not the one about to deliver a baby). After another check, the nurse came back and said that the baby needed to “slide down” a bit more and she would return in thirty minutes.  I love the “hurry up to wait” dance; and so we waited.  After half an hour there were some practice pushes, and then another thirty minute “slide down” break.  Remember we had all had our last minute bathroom visits? Yeh, not so much, there were plenty more trips and even a few minutes for me to finish that wilting salad.

Eventually, it was time.  Mommy got some serious pushing going with her fantastic nurse and helpful coaches supporting her both physically and emotionally.  There were pauses of seriousness and silence; mom would rest in between pushes and we would quietly watch the monitor waiting for the next contraction.  Out of nowhere, the wrong  bed button was activated and mid-push mom’s bed was raised and elevated  into some awkward contortion that sent us all into hysterical laughter.  “I guess we didn’t get far with that one” giggled the laboring mom.

Once it was clear that baby was soon to make his entrance, the nurse called the doctor on her fancy hospital phone. Enter  the doctor donning her scrubs and it all seemed real. Personally, I was sympathetically pushing with mom the whole way.  I had full blown tmj from gritting my jaw so tight with stress and anticipation.

And then, it happened: the baby  joined the party. It was amazing! He was suddenly on his mommy’s chest, the nurse was suctioning him and we heard the most beautiful cry you could ever imagine.

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His beauty was/is overwhelming.  I had tears and smiles as big as the moon; there is no way to describe how awe-inspiring it all was.  A bit later after the siblings had joined the party and then left to let mom have some quiet, I sat quietly holding the clean and swaddled newborn.  I said to mom “how was he inside of you less than two hours ago?”  Just unbelievable.

As I drove home while talking (safely on my handsfree bluetooth) to our  mutual dear friend in Ohio about the whole experience, I said, please don’t repeat this to anybody, but “I am exhausted!”.  Not like I had just delivered a baby or anything.

As far as bucket list items go, I have to say that this one just about tops it off.  It was an amazing and joyful day, I am so happy that I was included in this beautiful event.

Truly honored to be a part of this precious boy's life

Truly honored to be a part of this precious boy’s life


Bucket List Part 1

bucket

I’ve had  a little bucket list floating in my head for the past several years. It wasn’t planned or formal (I rarely operate in such an organized fashion), just adventures that I want to  experience or accomplish during this midlife crisis phase of life.  A few were athletic endeavors that I mentioned here, and the Avon  Walk was something I had always thought about and am SO GLAD it is now in my bucket (times three).  Last fall, my daughter mentioned that she would like to learn to knit.  Knitting has long been a bucket item.  The YouTube lady became our friend  and we arduously toiled and foiled  until we figured out this cool and very relaxing knitting thing.

Although I have had three children and was DEFINITELY  present at their births (and subsequent raising, although Child #1 would argue that point), I have always wanted to be on the other end of the birthing experience.  I wanted to see a baby be born when it wasn’t coming out of my body.  Thanks to my dear friend, I can now check that off my bucket list.  I was graciously invited in to the Labor and Delivery Room to join her husband and her sister witness the birth of her son. And  yes, it met all of my expectations.

My phone rang at 7:30 in the morning.  Auntie was calling to tell me that they had arrived at the hospital,  she said that I had time to take a shower and to meet them there when I was ready.  I frenzied around, left my sleeping children and grabbed some lattes for audience participants, arriving at the hospital less than an hour later.

Mom was having  back labor at the time and waiting eagerly for the glories of the epidural.  Within the first five minutes of my arrival, she had a contraction.  This was the first time I have ever seen anyone have a contraction (other than my own).  It was hard to watch;  I readily witnessed her pain without feeling it and just wanted to do something to ease it for her.  Pre-epidural, we were strongly instructed to NOT TOUCH the mommy, no one was to go near her during the contraction.

About an hour later, with miracle drugs flowing into her system, my friend was a comfortable woman in labor.  She tried to rest while we chatted, watched hours of 80’s sitcoms and waited.  We were all enthralled by the monitors.  There were graphs tracking both the baby’s heart rate and the strength of the contractions. The screen also showed all of the monitors of the other women in labor on the floor. We could tell when the woman down the hall was having a “big one” and that one woman was having twins due to two fetal heart beats. I spent hours gazing at the monitors.

At some point mid-day, Auntie and I went down to grab some lunch.  We had a few bites of our  not-so-bad hospital food  only to receive a text from dad mid-chew, “9.5 cm”.   Faster than a contraction, we tossed the contents of our trays (well, Auntie did, I don’t easily discard food, so my salad joined me in the elevator) and headed up for the main event.

To be continued…


Balancing the helping hand

source

source

I met with three different women last week each of whom was concerned about her mother.  One of my clients was in her mid twenties, another in her mid thirties and the third woman was in her early forties.  Each of them are worried that their mothers aren’t doing enough in their daily lives.  They worry that their moms are isolated, don’t get out and don’t have peers or interests.  Two of the moms have husbands that work during the day and the other mom  is living alone.  My clients each came to me with personal  issues and struggles, but this one week they all happened to be discussing their moms.

I was thinking about how much each daughter should encourage, urge or interfere in her mom’s lives.  What is the right balance? One client was attending a workshop and her mom came along, another was joining her mom at worship services.  The third has been an integral part in her mother’s ‘new normal’ of adjusting to living alone.  The one who was attending church with mom began to feel badly when she wanted to explore some other spiritual options;  she was torn between meeting her own needs and meeting the needs of her mom.

As a therapist, this is an interesting dynamic to witness.  My client is my interest; my job is to provide the tools for my client to  feel better, achieve her goals and find calm and joy in her daily life. I hear about, in this case, their mothers and have new concerns and empathy.  Would we call this a client ‘once removed’? What  happens when what is best for my client may be in conflict with what is best for the client once removed?

The twenty-something woman has recently moved into her first apartment after years of schooling.  Her mom is struggling with her baby becoming an independent adult.  My client feels torn between having dinners with her mom and taking care of her own social needs.  I help my client with her boundaries; encourage her to take care of herself, live her new ‘adult’ life and nurture her independent relationships.  Is it my client’s role to fill her mother’s emotional needs? Not necessarily.  In a perfect world, the ‘client once removed’ would begin her own therapy  to empower herself  to make changes  to become personally fulfilled without tugging at her daughter to feel complete.

Three weeks ago, the client in her early forties was so worried about  her mom that she asked if she could bring mom in to her therapy session.  After talking about the pros and cons and discussing all confidentiality needs, we agreed that this would be an appropriate move.  The next week, they both came to the session. At almost eighty, mom was full of life; proud and in charge and chatty as could be (unless I asked her something that made her uncomfortable or was too close to a real feeling.  She repeatedly told me that in her day one didn’t go to therapy except for one person she knew who had a “breakdown”and was taken to the “sanitarium”).  Mom insisted that she was happy, enjoyed her television shows and socializes when she gets her hair done  and with the people at her favorite restaurant  that she frequents up to three time a week.  The following week my client/her daughter came back for her session.  She said that she had “let go”;  hearing her mom talk with me had convinced her that mom was going to call the shots.  As much as my client would like for mom to get out more and have some friends, she was letting go, it wasn’t her call to make.

Last  month a friend’s mother had surgery.  This morning she was sharing with me how her mom had been doing. My friend was hands-on during the initial time of surgery and recuperation.  She has since backed off; “my mom (who is eighty)  is very independent and doesn’t need me to be hovering”.  Just recently she told her mom to drive over to her house, she told me “I had to push her for fear that she would be too afraid to resume driving.”

As she talked,  I had an “aha” moment about this half-written post.  There is a time for a dinner with mom and extra visits after surgery, but there is also a time and a need for boundaries.  It can be very complicated to set those boundaries  for fear of hurting “mom’s” (or anyone’s) feelings.  Taking care of one’s self is not selfish, it is self-care.  When my clients are giving all of their time and energy over to their moms, they rarely have anything left for themselves.  The more they learn in therapy how to take care of themselves, the more balanced and healthy energy they will have to give back to their moms and others in their lives.


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.

Laurie


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