Tag Archives: The New York Times

Sailing Into the Light of Compassion


I took this photo on Monday evening, after an emotional weekend. My nearly 5-year-old son was sitting on our deck singing his favorite new song: “I Have Peace Like a River, I Have Love Like an Ocean” (so cute!). I looked up and saw this sailboat sailing into a tiny spotlight of light, breaking through rain clouds over the Pacific Ocean. I knew instantly that it was the perfect metaphor for me as of late.

Perhaps it’s all the long hours of yoga teacher training? Or, maybe it’s all the hip opening we’ve been doing lately? But something is breaking down walls. I find that in this past month of intensive training, I’m opening up my heart more than ever and releasing a roller coaster of emotions and long-lost memories. During a particularly long hip opening called frog pose (not advisable for newbies!), a memory of my ex-husband popped into my head. It was in the middle of the night four and a half years ago. He had gone to the nursery, changed our infant baby’s diaper and was humming as he walked back into our room. He handed the little burrito to me in bed so I could nurse him back to sleep. He kissed the baby’s head and mine, before turning back in. It was such a sweet memory.

After our six hour training session this Saturday, I thought about what other memories had been popping up lately. Some have been hard, from my childhood that was an ever-shifting alcohol-fueled tide. But some sweet too. One was of my dad, laughing and teasing me and one of my best friends he liked to call Beastie. I had forgotten how he would tease my girl and boy-friends in such silly ways.

What I’m realizing, as I mellow, is that it’s just as critical to recall the good along with the bad memories from those who have let me down. We are all such multi-faceted beings. Even those who have hurt me tremendously, have also been kind, silly and tender at times. This can be confusing, but for me, it helps as I piece together my past that for the longest time felt like shifting sands. It’s hard to leap forward with confidence, when the past resembles a shaking, evolving platform.

I think the hard part of recovering from a divorce, or any betrayal or lies,  is the internal confusion that grows. As I discovered the truth about events in my marriage, and even in my childhood, I started to question my ability to discern just what is real, or what was felt, or what can be trusted by others.

That’s why light bulbs flashed for me while reading an article by psychiatrist Anna Fels on Sunday. Apparently, many other people felt the same way, as her New York Times editorial Great Betrayals was the fifth most viral news article on the Internet that day.

I haven’t written about divorce or betrayal in a long, long time. There’s a reason for that. I’m focussing on my kids and my writing and moving on in positive ways. But Dr. Fels’ compassionate explanation of the psychological effects of  lies has resonated deeply with me. I don’t think I’ve read a more thorough article on the topic ever—and trust me, I’ve read plenty. Here’s why:

Dr. Fels explains eloquently why it’s so hard for those of us who have had been lied to, to move on successfully. We no longer have trust in our memories—in the narrative of our life. This erodes into a patchy, mental foundation, as we begin to mistrust what we see or hear or even experience in the present. In order to move forward, we have to put together the narrative of our past. And this takes courage and time to put the whole story line back together. It takes courage to own the good and bad times—regardless of what else might have been happening. And perhaps that part can only come after forgiveness truly settles in. At least, that’s how I see it.

Dr. Fels simply explains that the person who does the lying or betrayal can recover more easily as they have an intact past. This person knows exactly what she or he did and felt. And if remorseful, can recover faster and step forward refreshed and determined to begin a new. Typically, they garner more support, too, as everyone loves a come-back story. The psychiatrist gave many examples of betrayal, including a client who hid a massive debt from his partner for years.

The part of betrayal that hurts the most are always the lies. They eat away at the fabric of your past reality and the ability to trust what you sew in the future. For instance, a friend who has been divorced several years is still discovering more lies and betrayals from her ex. The continual drip of new information from friends and family keeps her on edge. Just what was real from their marriage? When they were on vacation did he mean what he said? They had a lot of fun times, did he not share them? Were they not real? When he wanted to venture into another business abroad, was another woman in the picture then, too? And what about their many friends who knew? Should she trust them now?

Dr. Fels explains:

“Insidiously, the new information disrupts their sense of their own past, undermining the veracity of their personal history. Like a computer file corrupted by a virus, their life narrative has been invaded. Memories are now suspect: what was really going on that day? Why did the spouse suddenly buy a second phone “for work” several years ago? Did a friend know the truth even as they vacationed together? Compulsively going over past events in light of their recently acquired (and unwelcome) knowledge, such patients struggle to integrate the new version of reality. For many people, this discrediting of their experience is hard to accept. It’s as if they are constantly reviewing their past lives on a dual screen: the life they experienced on one side and the new “true” version on the other. But putting a story together about this kind of disjunctive past can be arduous.”

As I read this article, I felt a wave of compassion roll over me like a mother rocking her child and saying “there, there.” Piecing together the past is arduous.

I loved that Dr. Fels reminds readers that the people who are lied to are NOT naive for trusting their partners and they were not” in denial and knew on some level”—both sentiments that misguided friends and family often say to the person in pain. The psychiatrist explains that friends become queasy about the lack of control victims of betrayal have—often making them to be less supportive or critical.

“But the betrayed are usually as savvy as the rest of us. When one woman I know asked her husband, a closet alcoholic who drank secretly late at night, how he could have hidden his addiction for so long, he replied, “It took a lot of work.””

Dr. Fels’ article, (without specifically stating it) reminds ALL of us to seek compassion. Life is messy. We are all multi-faceted and none of us are perfect. The person who is struggling to piece together their own narrative, especially, needs to find compassion for themselves. It’s okay if you don’t move on immediately or always behave with grace and forgiveness. This is hard work.

I feel blessed to finally be on the other side. And as waves of good memories start flooding in, I’m starting to own them. At first it confused me into thinking I wanted to return to my old life. There were many good times, after all. But now I know it’s just a way for me to be grateful for what I had and how I’m growing in my awareness and in my capacity for forgiveness and compassion. (And this includes for myself.) There were plenty of times when I might have been overly critical and less grateful than I am now. I’m owning them too—and moving on. But most importantly, when I recall a memory where I felt love and security, when in light of discovered events, it likely wasn’t reciprocated, I now allow it to be ok. I felt it. I lived it. And that memory can be owned, too. One person’s actions doesn’t necessarily negate your own feelings or hopes. And they shouldn’t be an excuse to shut down, and not trust or dare to love again. But it just takes time—and more importantly, it takes compassion.

I’ll leave you with this quote from one of my favorite Buddhist authors:

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ”
― Pema Chödrön

Can I Be a Good Mom AND Follow My Dreams?

“Why do people say ‘grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna’ be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.”― Betty White

Don’t you just love that quote?! I laughed out loud when reading that from fellow blogger trjensen.

Perhaps there is some truth to it—well, obviously! But there’s also truth beyond the physicality of our genitalia. Women are strong inside out. Oftentimes, we, by nature, put everyone else’s needs first and we forget our own strength. I know that I’ve been guilty of that for years. And in the process of putting everyone else’s needs first, I get drained and depleted: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In that state of exhaustion, it’s easy to snap at the kids or get distracted. It’s also easy to get depressed, or let negative thoughts pervade my mind.

I’ve made a conscious effort, over the past two years, to start putting me on my To Do list. Years before, when I was married, I would feel too guilty all the time for doing anything for me. Isn’t that nuts? Perhaps I bought—hook, line and sinker— the cultural pressure for female perfection. I seriously thought that if I wasn’t focussed 100% of the time on my kids and my family, than I was being selfish. Intellectually, I knew that was nuts. But even when working full-time in a demanding editing job, I’d still put most of the pressure of parenting and house-duties on myself. When I only had one child, this was sort of manageable. We women are major jugglers, aren’t we?

Now that I’m a single mom with two boys—I have to handle it all, and at the same time, I know I can’t handle it all. It’s kind of funny, but that knowledge is actually liberating. It’s given me the ability to actually say no to some demands and requests. It’s also helping to crystalize how I want to spend my time. Creating more quality time with the kids—rather then just shuttling them around like a taxi driver—is high on my priority list. But also, I see clearly now how critical it is for me to carve out time for my health—and to set up time, even if only a few hours a week, for my personal writing. This week, however, wasn’t one of my best weeks. I had so much going on with the kiddos from a school outing I had to attend, to school parties, a school parade, a HUGE project and presentation that demanded many shopping trips and much assistance—to the regular athletic activities and dinners and then of course, Halloween. I seriously think I’m about to drop.

But I’m not sure that life would be that much different if I was still married. Even though we have come so far since my parent’s generation, it seems that more parenting duties are still stacked upon the mom. I’ve noticed that in so many families, not just mine.

Why is that? I don’t think women and men are THAT different. We all want the best for our kids. So why, then, is it socially acceptable for so many moms to carry the lion share of parenting? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s partly due to American culture that eventually pushes us moms to try to tackle it all. But at what expense? Our health? Our sanity? Our dreams?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the actual difference between the sexes— verses our own stereotypes and cultural pressure—that drastically affects the differing roles in parenting.

And ANY mom out there knows what I mean.

To make this a bit more clear:

Why, for instance, is it only a bad reflection upon the mother if a child doesn’t have gift bags at parties, or the exact number of Halloween cards or Valentine’s Day cards for every student at school? Think about it.

Why is it a poor reflection upon the mother if the house is a wreck?

Why do teachers regularly reach out to the mom about a kid’s major project, asking her to assist the child in getting it ready?

And when a child’s school project is not completed or done poorly—why is this a bad reflection upon the mom? Doesn’t Dad deserve a bit of the blame too?

Just how much work is mom required to do verses dad when it comes to homework and studying, child care and house work? I know I’m not the only writer to ask these questions. In this New York Times article, How Do Male and Female Roles Differ In Your Family?, I learned that the US Census Bureau counts Fathertime as “child care”. For 2005, fathers (in intact families) reported that they cared for their children 26 % of the time while the moms were working or in school. That time was reported as child care—basically calling dads babysitters. The rest of the 74% of child care time, when children were with their mothers, was reported as parenting. (I’m sure this chaffs some dads out there too, right?)

I also find it infuriating that many elementary schools request (or practically require) parent volunteers on a daily basis in the classroom. So why, then, do other moms tisk, tisk when another mother works and can’t volunteer every day or every week? Isn’t it just as much a responsibility for the dads to carve out an hour to volunteer, too?

Aren’t many of the stereotypes out there reinforced by moms who feel that others who work aren’t doing their fair share? Seriously, think about it.

Aren’t so many of us just trying to keep our careers, dreams AND our families together? And, isn’t that ok?

So to be a “good mom” in America, does that require that our dreams and careers must suffer, too?

Here are two statements said to me recently:

  1. “I put my children first, which is why I don’t work.”
  2. “No one can be successful at writing, or actually write a book, and raise young children.”

I am blocking both comments out of my mind completely. Instead, I’m embracing my inner strength, (or my inner vagina) which really means, I’m embracing audacious hope. There just HAS to be a way to be a good mom, be present for my kids, and also say no to some of the demands made of me. There has to be a way that I can put ME on my To Do list.

What do you think? Are you struggling with this too?

Why The Youngest Grows Up Too Fast

(And Why There’s Really Not Much You Can Do About It)

I have spent days writing and re-writing this post. I know I shouldn’t admit that as inevitably there will be a professional writer among my readers who will still be able to point to indelible flaws in its structure or word choice. Oh well. My hesitancy isn’t from a fear of perfection. It actually has been one that surprised me as I began writing on this topic and discovered how very personal it is. My dear friend pointed out to me last night that if it’s too hard to be honest, I either leave my own family and past out of my writing, or stop blogging altogether. I think he’s right on so many levels. The topic of how the youngest grows up too fast is one that hits very close to home. There is just no way I can write about it without my own filter—without touching on my own unique childhood. I am the youngest of four from parents very distracted by their important careers and failing marriage. Because of that, I raised myself to a large degree. I am a product of those times and I grew up very quickly. Instead of rebelling with my independence and lack of attention, as others may have done, I became a little adult.  I had watched my older siblings and some of their friends struggle and I became a very serious child. By 17, I had managed college entrance exams and visited colleges solo and even drove myself three states away on the first day of college. A few weeks into college, I had a job at an NPR radio station with a spot after “All Things Considered,”  interviewing visiting judges and attorneys and had a legal beat at the newspaper by end of that year. That winter, I landed an internship at a TV station. Sophmore year I left for a summer study-abroad in London with British media. Senior year, I had a writing internship in Maine. As you can see, I was working professionally before my junior year and could barely focus on studies from all my “work” demands. It’s just the way things were for me as I had little understanding of how to relax, let alone party, like most co-eds—as I had to take care of business. My childhood shaped who I am today and why, surprising to some, after working so hard, I was able to throw my career into first gear, freelance, and focus on my children. It was a knee-jerk reaction. It had deep-seated psychological roots stemming from a lonely childhood. And it is why I may sometimes get labeled as a ‘too involved’ mom. I had a strong desire to always be near my children. To always be there for them. To not let them grow up on their own. A fabulous career with a national magazine could wait if that required latchkey kids at home. Sadly, that’s the gut fear raised out of my past. And I wrestle, even today, with my strong belief that all women should follow their dreams and their careers. It’s a conundrum that I own up to. (Trust me, critics.) So, with all of that out of the way, here is my original essay:

As the youngest of four, I remember sitting in my big brother’s room, looking at his rock posters of The Rolling Stones and Jimmy Hendrix, and covering my ears as Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” blasted at full volume. “We DON’T Need No Ed-U-CA-tion!” … “We Don’t Need No Thought Control!”

The bass reverberated from the L-shaped walls of my big brother’s room. My hip, big brother would smile a sheepish smile at me. I was maybe nine or 10 years old. My brother, who is six years older than me, was always playing music. I thought he was incredibly cool. He could do anything with a camera too (before Photoshop and digital cameras, mind you.). He’d go into dark rooms and super-impose a picture of himself dressed in character, between Mick Jagger and the rest of The Stones, or walking across Abbey Lane with The Beatles. He introduced me to Led Zepplin, Santana, Ozzie Osborne, and a whole host of bands—not that he always wanted to. Like the time I listened to “The Wall” at full-tilt. I recall that I couldn’t open his door to leave, so I was forced to “listen” at such excruciatingly high volume that even my screams couldn’t be heard. But I’m sure this was probably done after I had begged repeatedly to be included when all the big kids from the neighborhood would go into his cool room and leave me alone in the den with my art and books.

After school hours are always tricky for younger siblings of parents who work. There’s a lot to do between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. each day. And life for the youngest in a household involves politics and daily maneuvering. Big brothers and big sisters ignore, pick on, and then periodically threaten or bribe their youngest sibling on a weekly basis. (The threatening and bribing are the big guns that only come out when the little one knows too much about rules being broken or any mischief your parents “can’t know” about.) You get the idea.

I usually hated knowing about boyfriends or friends coming over or parties when the parents were away—as I would be wrought with guilt and fear: guilt for lying to my parents, and fear from what my older siblings might do if I told. Again, that’s just life as a much younger sibling. And when the age gap is very big, the youngest grows up much faster and is then left alone. By the time I entered high school, I was an only child as my two sisters and brother (who are all one year apart from each other in age) were in college.

So, I’m looking back at those times and thinking about the future for my two sons. My oldest is 10 years and my youngest is three. It’s a big age gap. And for the past year, my youngest has been exposed to video games, movies and music I’d rather he wasn’t. It’s excruciatingly hard to monitor. On occasion, a new babysitter will let the older one pick out a movie to watch that I don’t want the younger one to see. Or, my oldest plays LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” on his ipad and suddenly, the three-year-old is running around the house singing it. Or, the older one will start playing a video game in front of the baby when I’m in the shower, etc. etc. For two years I’ve been lecturing my oldest tonotwatch certain movies and TV shows, or play certain games, or say certain words around his little brother. I lecture him and remind him that there were no big brothers forcing him to watch inappropriate things when he was little. I even dock TV time, or take away games when he disobeys. I think I’m getting a handle on those type of things.

But this Spring Break, my oldest son’s best friend from London visited and I watched little Jamesy stare up at them both with awe. He trailed them wherever they went. He idolizes his big brother and all of his friends. He wants to be bigger. He wants to do whatever they do. As the youngest, I completely understand. Before you know it, my oldest will be in high school and my youngest will be in elementary school, listening to rock, watching inappropriate YouTube videos, and possibly keeping secrets about his big brother’s friends who are all hanging out at some point after school while I’m at work.

I’ve read some expert commentary and articles about how to help kids from growing up too fast. Almost all of them focus on the youngest ages and on whether we push children to learn too much, too quickly, in kindergarten. Some, like Lisa Belkin, wonder how some parents also manage to simultaneously “helicopter parent” by hovering too closely. That may all be true in today’s society. I’m also sure that I had far too much independence as a child and a teenager. But even today, with our “helicopter” and “tiger mom”  parenting styles, aren’t they usually on a timer? Or are these styles relegated to non-working parents only? How many parents still hover over multiple children during high school years, for instance? How many working parents—or single working parents—can afford to do so? I mean, who wants to pay for a part-time nanny for a teenager and an elementary-aged child? At a certain point, the high school kid is usually allowed to be home alone after school and expected to “babysit” the youngest.

I think it’s absolutely okay. This article is in no way an endorsement for all women to stay home, by the way. (And why is it that in 2012, almost everyone still expects the mom, not the dad, to stay home?) I’m very intrigued by The Conflict by Elizabeth Badinter, to be released soon in the U.S. The New York Time’s Motherlode post equating modern day motherhood to today’s version of sexism, is quite compelling. Perhaps the pressure to be the perfect parent isolates and represses women? Perhaps that pressure also leads to more divorce or more mid-life crisis down the road? It’s hard to leave careers and focus solely on the kids to the exclusion of one’s ambitions, one’s passions, one’s interests and sometimes one’s own health. It’s also hard not to leave careers and stay home with the kiddos in today’s world that seems to scream that staying home is necessary (at least in elementary years) for your children’s proper development.

I know I’ll have to go back to work full-time fairly soon. My divorce settlement, and California law, means that I’ll have much less to live on by the time my three-year-old is six. (California law says spousal support is only mandatory for half the number of years you were actually married, and begins the day of your legal separation. Part-time work won’t be enough, I’m afraid, to make ends meet.) I’m actually not frightened by all of this. I’ve worked full-time before and will work full-time again. Being a single mom with no family nearby and an Ex in Europe, means my little guys may find themselves home alone after school in the very near future.

I expect that many of you face this scenario already. And while you may desperately want to shield your youngest from growing up too quickly, there is really little you can do. I’ve decided that the best course of action is to decide right here and now not to ‘check out.’  Just because I may not be able to be with my boys each day after school—does not mean that my only option is to just hope it all goes well. I hope to enroll them in sports and after-school programs. I will try to find them male mentors. Because without all that, they’ll be left to their own devices, a lot, in L.A.—and there’s plenty of temptation here. To a certain extent, kids have to have enough room to find their own way in this world. But I know from experience that it’s critical not to turn a blind eye as a parent during the teen years. I am so thankful that I’ve put my divorce—and the madness that occurs when one parent is desperately trying to keep a marriage together—behind me. That chapter is closed. As someone who is now in her 40s, I see couples all around me who are beginning the middle-age malaise. You know what I mean. It’s that time in life when people start thinking critically about their choices, their life, their disappointments, their relationships, their dreams. It’s a time when many couples fall apart. It’s a time when many parents “check out” and focus on their own needs.

I lived through that. As I mentioned, my parents literally checked out as they focused on work and saving their marriage. I was completely on my own after school and had no curfews and no over-sight. Luckily, instead of rebelling in high school, I grew up. Little girls sometimes do that. I took on responsibility. I didn’t screw up or skip school or do drugs. I rose to the occasion by becoming a little adult. I had little fun, as you can see from my work ethic in college, but at least I didn’t do drugs or get pregnant. But I had neighbors, mentors and lovely teachers who helped me. Not all youngest children in my scenario would fare so well. And I imagine boys may be different. Thinking about my little boys in L.A., I wonder how I can help. There isn’t much we can do to slow down how fast our youngest children grow up—but perhaps we can help them make better choices? We can choose to keep lines of communication open. We can choose not to ignore them when we come home from work. We can choose to check in during the day by phone or have neighbors check in. Yes, even single moms who may work long hours away from home can find mentors, coaches, other moms and family to help us stay connected to our kids.

So I fully expect my youngest to idolize his big brother for years to come. My oldest is a sweet and thoughtful boy, but as a teen, he may get hit with teenitisis. Aren’t most teens obsessed with their friends and their own needs? I expect that there will be moments when he is supposed to be babysitting and friends are over. I expect that my Jamesy will experience many of the same things that I did as the smallest with much older kids at home alone. These moments will help shape and define him. There will be many lessons to be learned away from mommy’s eyes, and I have to be ready for that.

Thanks for reading! Phew, this was a long one! Please chime in if you have any advice or similar fears. X

Beauty, Forgiveness in Letting Go

I can’t stop thinking about The New York Times article “Untying the Knot in Japan” by Paige Ferrari. In fact, ever since reading the article that outlines this new Japanese trend of divorce ceremonies, I can’t stop the steady stream of images from daydreams, clearly inspired by this idea. Obviously, I crave closure. One snippet of my dream keeps popping into my mind—like disjointed, still frame, romantic images. I even sent a message to my soon-to-be Ex about wanting to have a divorce ceremony. Not surprisingly, he didn’t reply.

Perhaps I’ll just have one on my own. Before reading this article, I had thought (once the divorce was final) I’d invite a friend or two to come with me as I throw my wedding band off the end of one of the Southern California piers into the Pacific Ocean. I imagined I’d say a few things before the toss about mixed blessings; becoming stronger; putting my sons first; or living a better life. But now I see what I really want is a ceremony that would honor the 12 years my husband and I spent together. I’d love a ceremony that is like a symbolic blessing to us both—releasing us to move on and inspiring us to be respectful of one another for the sake of our boys.

In Ferrari’s article, a divorce ceremony is outlined where both the ex-husband and ex-wife come together, say a few words in front of a witness, and then both use a hammer to crush their wedding bands. It’s a somber occasion, but one that respects their former union, blesses the two to move on, and confirms the importance of their child’s health and happiness. More ex-couples would benefit from a ceremony such as this, don’t you think? Since I’ll likely never have one with my Ex who lives in London, I will dream of one that allows me to let go and continue on with beauty and hope.

In my recurring dream, a paper lantern floats wobbly in a river—the candle light inside flickering in and out through a heavy layer of fog. It moves with fragility in the water and I am compelled to reach out to it. I have been waiting for it alone on a dock and I stretch to reach it, but can not. I am frightened that the light will burn out, so I stretch my body along the scratchy wood planks of the dock, my upper torso dangling precariously over the water. Finally one long finger touches the side of the lantern and I pull it towards me. I lift it up and put my wedding ring inside. I let myself think for a moment about the beauty of our wedding, the sweetness of our love that day, and the hope we both once had. Inside the other crease of the lantern, I place two folded pieces of paper with messages to my soon-to-be ex-husband.

“Don’t forget your boys,” is written on one note.

“I forgive you,” on the other.

I visualize all the hurt and pain that I have felt over the past two years as a smoke rising from a flame. The wind lifts it up in the crisp night air and allows it to combine with the fog. I place the paper lantern with my ring and messages back into the river and push it gently into the current.

As I watch it drift away, I let go of all anger and bitterness.

I close my eyes, envision my beautiful boys, and allow myself to feel blessed in this parting.