Monday, August 21, 2017

School Season, Karma & Six Degrees of Separation...

This is one, from a series of several non-fiction happenings in my life, I will be sharing.  Each story reinforces the universal cosmic notion of Six Degrees of Separation & Karma. It's my hope you, as the reader, will relate with my experiences as well as reflect upon your own beliefs on our connectedness as human beings.  

So school is beginning, right moms? From nursery school through college, moms journey through relationships and experiences that help us gain a better understanding of ourselves and provide insight to navigate our trek through motherhood. 

Often, we hear clich├ęs such as "what comes around goes around" and the idea of Six degrees of separation:  the theory that all living things in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other so that a chain of "a friend of a friend" statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.  Both these expressions became truisms in my life after I met another mom (who has since moved away) when our kids attended the same nursery school. I learned a few powerful lessons I'm compelled to share. 

When my husband and I purchased our new home in preparation of raising our family, we both agreed to live outside of our comfort zone-- away from the towns we grew up in-- but not so far that we couldn't drive a few hours to visit close relatives and friends.  Since we wanted to start a family, we ventured  to an area touted with great schools and an active children's community.  We didn't realize how challenging it would be to have absolutely no one we knew close by once we had our kids, only 18 months apart in age.

We were blessed with two extremely active boys who literally learned to run a few days after learning to walk. And as many of you may guess, they often went in different directions, with completely opposite personalities. Hence, I placed them in different nursery schools:  While our older son enjoyed a Co-op nursery school where parents-- including myself--helped out, we placed our younger son in a nursery school centered around the Jewish faith. Even though we are Catholic, I felt the school's program and philosophy was the best fit for our son's high activity level. It was also a wonderful opportunity for all of us to learn more about another culture as they celebrated the rituals of Shabbat with prayers, lighting of candles, and --the toddlers favorite--offerings of challah bread and grape juice each Friday. We met both Catholic families who shared our outlook as well as Jewish families who welcomed us. 

Both our sons, Derek and Dylan,  were very happy, and I was acclimating to motherhood. I had struggled with my new mom status after our first son was born. In short, I built my career most of my life and never imagined leaving it to become a mom. But, my children needed me, and I loved them so much and felt no one else would raise them as I would. 

I'm unsure if my struggles included some postpartum depression as I was never diagnosed for it. I only knew that  I was experiencing feelings of isolation. This prompted me to seek therapy about 8 months after our first son was born. I needed to connect with someone who understood me and could help me get back on track. My husband was supportive but didn't feel as I did, which was lost: Lost in my neighborhood or lack thereof since most of the parents with small kids had nannies,  lost in my stay at home status, wondering if I was a "good" mom, lost in me and what I wanted to accomplish as a woman, as a person. 

 I vividly recall pushing my stroller into the home office of the therapist  I made an appointment with for the first time. She seemed to understand me. She was a career-driven woman as well and had accomplished children who also were new parents. Yet, after a few sessions, I have to regrettably admit, I didn't connect with her. She was often late to our sessions which annoyed me considering I had my baby on board, a baby I breastfed, dressed and cleaned before arriving--not to mention lugging everything including a 33lb Graco stroller in and out of the car and up her driveway. She also focused a good amount of time on completing my insurance forms to make sure she got paid (yes, we all want to get paid, but c'mon, do this after our session). 

Anyway, within a few weeks, I had to discuss a major issue in my life involving one of my longest, dearest and closest friends. She was going through a terrible time in her life, and it was devastating. She began driving over to my home several times a week.  Naturally, I was caring for my son who often didn't sleep, which, of course, meant I too was sleep deprived.  I didn't know how to console her, and I was becoming overwhelmed  in trying to help. I have to emphasize my friend's issue didn't involve substance abuse of any sort, which is why,  when the therapist advised me to "cut-her out of your life," I couldn't believe it.  I reminded her this woman was a lifelong friend who had helped me many times, and we've  been there for each other...always. The therapist scolded, "You have a new baby, a new life...she's causing too much stress for need to cut it off... see if she gets the help she needs."  I understood the importance of taking care of my son. Still, I didn't think I had to abandon my friend completely. 

After much contemplation, I did drop her--the therapist, that is! I was able to help my friend get the support she needed, and I devoted myself to my son and organizing our lives better. I also found joy in some of our simple strolls, his milestones... and writing. Unfortunately, a few months later, our savings were depleted and I had to return to work.  Surprisingly, soon  after starting my career again, I became pregnant. After the birth of our second son, I left my career, became a full-time mom and began a new career path in writing and tutoring, as well as venturing into educational advocacy work. And, I found a counselor who I admired, one who I felt understood me and could help me back on track.

So, as my sons grew into their nursery schools, each loving his friends and teachers, I became more confident in trusting my "mother's instinct" in making life choices for our family. During one of my younger son's, Dylan's  play-dates, a mom and I chatted while our kids ran around.  We had a quick play-date at her palatial house before one of my son's doctor's appointment, so I had them back over to our home. As the mom and I talked, she shared her son's favorite person in the class was Dylan and that her son  didn't connect with anyone else.  I told her not to worry as some kids, and moms,  need time to warm up to others.

As our kids raced around, climbing in and out of a cardboard box (of course,  a playroom of toys, and Dylan chose an empty box as his conquest) we discussed all the different issues we faced as parents. She explained  some of her philosophy, especially the importance of having alone time with our husbands. I was somewhat envious that she and her husband often left their kids with her parents and went away on the weekends to a second residence, an  apartment in NYC her parents owned.  I was also a little embarrassed to admit I couldn't remember the last time my husband and I went out alone. 

Then she asked  if I cleaned my home. "Ummm, yup, I do."  She couldn't imagine "living without" a cleaning lady: "She even does my laundry."  I recall giggling replying, "There's no way I'd let anyone do our laundry--unless it was dire circumstances." She told me I needed to change my thinking... and in some ways, she was probably right. I had--and still do--some old fashioned ideas about cooking and cleaning. Still, the main reason I do these tasks is to show love to my family. I have since cooked with my kids who now prepare occasional meals, and they help with the cleaning.  Next, she advised me to install a surveillance camera outside so I didn't have to leave the house all the time to watch my kids when they were playing. That was funny to me as well because I couldn't imagine sending my toddlers out to play alone... especially since we don't have a fence... Besides they like me to play with them, well...sometimes. 

Once we discussed our careers, I explained I took a hiatus from mine and was working to build something else.  She explained she studied psychology and would be working with her mom who happened to be an "amazing" psychologist. As she described where her mom's office was, I got that strange feeling  in my gut: "Was her mom the psychologist I saw?" I thought, "Lord, I hope not."  I'm bad at pretense, so I just smiled and nodded before turning away, worried she might sense my familiarity once she mentioned  her mom's name, my former psychologist!
Before leaving the mom paused, "There's one question (Oh, geez, I hope she doesn't ask me why I stopped seeing her mom) I've been meaning to ask you....(long pause).. "Why is Dylan always so happy?"

I smiled, answering in relief: "he just is."  I felt joyful after she left, recognizing my children are happy.  So maybe I, in some way, I thought,  "am contributing to enriching their lives?  Maybe that's one way to measure my success--at this time in my life?"  Obviously, kids go through stages just  as parents do. But right now, my kids are cheerful. And that's wonderful!
Moving forward, I felt uneasy in the thought I might see my former psychologist at my son's nursery school, but realized I had to choose what was "right" for me.  If that meant  some moments of awkwardness, then so be it. It wasn't long before there was a holiday party and grandparents were invited. When I saw my former psychologist, who was sitting with her grandson at another table by themselves, I smiled and let them have their time together. Instead, I focused on  my son who was dancing all day, extremely happy. 

 As the year progressed, we had many play dates with both our kids' friends and their moms and tons of birthday parties. At one party, I saw the mom/psychologist standing alone in the corner, looking sad and upset. I walked over to her and noticed she was crying. I asked if I could help. She explained her sister just delivered a baby with Down's Syndrome. She said her sister worked with these children in her profession, so she was accepting  and feeling blessed to have the baby. I shared "how beautiful it is and how lucky this baby is to have a mom who has this experience to help provide a wonderful and full life." As the mom wept, she added  she worried, "you know how everyone compares kids...and how her child won't measure up..." I understood, but reminded her that her sister may not feel this way. "And who knows," I explained," your sister may help this child soar to unimaginable heights." Her sister appeared to be evolved beyond most people, myself included.  Ultimately, I did my best to comfort her. 

The next day at school during drop-off, the mom stopped me, "Thank you so much for everything you did for me yesterday. I told my mom you were the kindest human being I've ever met. I mean, no one has ever been that kind to me in my entire life." I hugged her, and said I was just being myself and doing what any caring person would do. 

On the ride home, I felt grateful she shared her appreciation with me. I also felt sad for her that, on some level, both she and her mom didn't understand the meaning of friendship.  The caring attention I gave to her, as an acquaintance, is the same consideration I gave to my best friend in getting the help she needed several years earlier. Would my former psychologist have wanted me to turn my back on her daughter during her painful moment?  

Moms (& everyone) need to  ultimately realize the remedies psychologists and all doctors give their patients aren't always the best solutions for our issues; sometimes answers aren't  found in textbooks; sometimes they are discovered in the depths of our heart.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Shoeships and Friendships: What a pair!

There's nothing better than coming home to find a box waiting for you on your front stoop. Even better, when it contains several pairs of shoes. Many women I've come to know have an affinity for both shoes and pocketbooks. Madison Ave advertising, along with Hollywood, perpetuate this adoration even more as actresses strut the famous name brands at the posh events and even incorporate the products into some story lines. Remember Carrie from Sex and the City and her obsession with all her Jimmy Choos; I mean, even his name rhymes with shoes.  Still, even though most women have a penchant for both, there is a divide between shoe and pocketbook  lovers over which of the two they are more consumed by. I agree the right pocketbook can complete an outfit and store all our little goodies inside. But, for me, shoes are the foundation of a complete look and, hence, more of my passion, especially boots. My favorite boots hug my calves, snuggle my toes with warmth and, as many people have shared, cause me to walk with a bounce--sort of like, "Tigger" from Winnie the Pooh. 

I was elated when my husband recently surprised me with a pair of unique boots I had strategically pointed out to him online awhile back: black leather with an added textured overlay design. But, when I tried them on, the luster and fit didn't feel right, so it was a definite disappointment; I exchanged them for what was now waiting inside the box for me to unveil.  With a new season coming in, I wanted to change things up. I came upon these finds after several weeks of online perusing. I was thrilled to exchange the one pair of boots, for three pairs of shoes:: one blush pink, bejeweled sandal, a brown leather pump and a pair of denim flats. I typically don't like flats as I'm only 5ft 4 and prefer to add a little height.

With the enthusiasm of a child at Christmas, I ripped open my package, while carefully handling each of the smaller shoe boxes contained within. The first box was sure to be my favorite as I desperately want a pair of pink, yup, my favorite color, shoes for the summer; it's rare to find the delicate tone I love. However, the color of the sandal was more beige than pink.  A huge--as Trump would say--- disappointment. Next, onto the rich, coffee brown pumps ordered to compliment my business slacks. Great color, but too big; when I walked the shoe moved up and down, rubbing against my heel. A sure-fire recipe for a nasty blister. Feeling regret, I hesitantly opened my final conquest to meet the denim flats. 

"Hmmm, they look pretty good," I thought. "Ahhhh, they feel divine," as I slid my foot into the cushioned insole--and, much to my surprise, the shoes look delicate and lovely. They even have a slight heel. Definitely not my typical style,  yet even the color matches lots of the casual summer wear I have.  Plus, my husband is always advising me to wear comfortable shoes when we go into NYC.  So the denim flats didn't fall "flat" after all. What a nice surprise! " 

This incident got me thinking about shoes and their similarities to the people we meet in our lives and some of the surprises we find. Occasionally, we're lucky enough to  meet individuals and--like shoes--we fit. We walk in stride, we complement each other, like shoes to an outfit. We support and help each other stand tall and simply being with them seems like an effortless stroll in the park. And when bumps in the road come, we lean on each other. When we reach mountaintops, we soar to celebrate the other's accomplishment to savor the joy. These are the people who are the keepers: the loves of our lives, our family and  best friends....the shoes we find new outfits to match with, so they never go out of style; they are timeless. We're just head over heels about them!

In contrast, we have those shoes, like so called "friends," who wear us down with negativity, or expect so much support and give so little or none in return. After awhile of hearing excuses for why they haven't surfaced, it may be time to move in a new direction. If someone is important, a friend makes it her business to connect.  

There are also the seasonal pals, like shoes, who one sees during special occasions or a sport's season, or when they or their children need a favor.  A few cronies, who like the shoes in the window or online, appear one way, but once we try them on, they're phonies. Maybe their pretense of friendship is opportunistic, and they see us as a way to get what they want for themselves or their kids. They may even bestow gifts and generous offerings which are hard to resist...until, well, their need of our goodwill ends as does their presence and presents.

And last, but most regrettable there are the few plastic people,  who run us down  and become the real "heels" in our lives. They go out of their way to squeeze our toes to hurt and betray us like the synthetic, faux leather and imitation shoes who can't compete with the real ones they are jealous of. They are fake, and like the "knock-off" imposters, often fall short as their cheap material doesn't bend  to lend support. It's only a matter of time before their lack of craftsmanship shines through and they get the boot.  Step aside and onto shoes with higher integrity.  It's time to find room for all the people, like shoes,  who will surprise us.

As I clear out my closets this Spring, I'm mindful that my shoes, like friends, serve a purpose: Some represent many of my life's experiences such as the few stiletto heels of yesteryears I've saved; I can't believe I could even walk in them, much less dance--which is what I did many an amazing night with people I'm still friends with!  I've  kept  some of the ornate heels to wear for special celebrations, I wear them infrequently, which is how often I see some acquaintances in my life. I don't count on either for much support, but enjoy celebrating with them occasionally. I've swapped many of the sneakers and clogs I wore down chasing my kids when they were toddlers with a few pairs of my favorite walking shoes, some new wedges, along with a few reasonably stacked  heels for business and outings.  Of course, there are the sandals for Spring and Summer that come with the added upkeep of a nice pedicure. 

In my shoe stash, I have some surprise finds I've stumbled upon when I wasn't looking. It's often those times, such as discovering the denim flats on my doorstep, that have added the most joy to my wardrobe. When others have commented, "Oh, I never saw you in that style, but I like it," I'm confident that I am the only person who knows which style is for me, and whether or not my shoe, and my friends, are a fit. Similarly, those comments have been made regarding relationships I've had: "Oh, I don't see you with that guy," or "She's doesn't seem like your type of friend." Well, then look a little bit closer. The exterior of the shoe or person may be basic and lovely. But nothing compared to what lies on its inside. And a person's interior--as that of footwear-- is often more important to me. 

 The seemingly monotone, basic black exterior of the boot below is an example as to the beauty of what lies within: an intricate, ruby red (& blue) intertwining interior pattern--reminding me I have the power inside, just as Dorothy did, if I just believe in myself. Yes, true friends do make us feel this way! 

I relish venturing forward strutting my boots this season. Like family, they  are close to reach, helping me  stand tall. My sister friends are my  soul mates, as my  favorite boots are my "solemates." Even when I don't wear them for awhile, I know they are there, and I can count on them for support. Yes, a few wedges may come between us, but we move forward and pump each other up during good and bad hair days.

Because the best part of being  passionate about shoes is, they come in pairs; and, like friends, we meander through life in tandem.