Make Valentine’s Day about giving

Make Valentine’s Day about giving

My feelings about Valentine’s Day have fluctuated over the years. When I was a kid, it was great! It meant being greeted in the morning with chocolates from my Dad and then receiving little Valentine’s from all my classmates. I went to a small Catholic school and all the kids gave everyone in the class a little card. All was good. No bad feelings created by anyone feeling left-out.

In High School Valentine’s Day became a fundraiser. The student council or some similarly enterprising group sold carnations in a variety of colors to represent the relationship between the sender and recipient: Love, Like, Friendship and the dreaded “Secret Admirer.” I never had a boyfriend in high school. I exchanged flowers with a few close friends and remained grateful for that.

Through college and my single years, whether or not I looked forward to Valentine’s Day was directly linked to whether or not I had a significant other. I don’t recall anything I did all of those years that was particularly special or memorable. By the time I got married, I didn’t really care anymore, except to make it special for our daughter. When making Valentine’s Day about giving rather than receiving, I found special meaning beyond the commercialism created by Hallmark and FTD.

1798511_792417727439123_1428641818_n
My Daughter’s first Valentine’s Day; wearing a gift from mom and dad, her first piece of jewelry from Tiffany – a necklace she also wore to her prom. River Edge, New Jersey. February 2001.

Any Valentine’s Days that came up short, I realize now are the times I lost sight of that. I had expectations about what I should be receiving, rather than just focusing of what I was giving, and what, beyond tangible gifts, was positive about the relationship. I think part of my issue through the years was the expectation those first Valentine’s Days created. My parents always exchanged lovely, thoughtful cards, flowers, candy and other special trinkets. My Dad set the bar pretty high. Although so did my mom.

I found a nice summary on The History of Valentine’s Day on history.com. The conclusion is that 85% of all Valentines are actually sent by women – hopefully women who have no expectation of getting one in return. That tells me that perhaps women, in expecting men to take the lead, may be setting themselves up for disappointment. The strength of any relationship shouldn’t be judged by what you do or don’t do on February 14th. Every day and any day can be Valentine’s Day.

Now, with my truly amazing boyfriend, I seem to do just fine – today and every other day! One of the things I cherish in this later-in-life, second chance at romance, is that I believe we are both very conscious of things that may have been taken for granted in our previous relationships. We are more mindful and present perhaps. Although I think that might just generally come with age, too.

Screen Shot 2019-02-11 at 11.10.20 AM
Finish line at the Surf City Half Marathon. Huntington Beach, California. February 2019.

This year for Valentine’s Day my boyfriend and I will not have 800 miles between us. That alone is a gift I will cherish. I do have a small little trinket as a symbol of my love that I am looking forward to giving him. What are your plans? I want to hear from you. What are your thoughts about Valentine’s Day now?  What differs from when you were a child, teen, and young adult? Are you doing anything special? As an empty-nesting parent, do you feel more connected to your partner on Valentine’s Day than you did when the kids where at home? If you’re single, do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Do you care? What remains important about this day to you?

Whatever your plans or relationship status, know that you are loved and appreciated. Thanks for reading.

Screen Shot 2019-01-21 at 10.21.38 AM

My Team Gilda Chicago Marathon Page

Put your oxygen mask on first

Put your oxygen mask on first

This is a bit of a follow-up to last week’s post. That post, shared on our town’s Moms FaceBook page garnered the most views for anything I’ve posted for this blog. I am grateful for that. Thank you for sharing. When I started writing about mental health about a year after my husband’s death, it was my desire to help open more eyes and ears to something that deserves so much more attention.

Another post in the last week on that moms page which got a lot of attention got me thinking about how the standards to which we hold ourselves and each other can be quite harmful to our mental health. The post (for those of you not following along) was from a mom of younger – I assumed elementary school-age children – who was fed-up with the speed at which one particular teenager was driving down her residential street.  This of course would be a concern to any mom whether coming from the perspective of a parent of small children whose safety was in jeopardy or the parent of the teenager who may be speeding. Had that post stated the issue and then maybe something along the lines of if any knows who this is, please tell them to slow down, the safety of all our children is at stake! the response probably would have been all positive. Instead the post was addressed to “the parents of the teen” and concluded with the line Get your kid under control!!!!

The blame evoked in that post got under my skin. And instead of leaving well-enough alone I responded; I believe, as diplomatically as possible.  I said something like, I understand your concern, no one should be speeding on any street in our town, but to hold the parents of  a “child” of driving age responsible is wrong. There comes a time when young adults need to take responsibility for their own actions and at that age, parents have little control over what their teens do. To this she called me a failure as a parent. And I told her we should plan to chat again when her children were teenagers. The thread continued with many other moms weighing in. I can’t tell you anything that was said exactly because the original post and long thread of comments that followed has since been removed. Yes, it got that bad.

Let’s first talk about the expectation we – mothers – set for ourselves. We want to do everything right for our kids and if we perceive that they are falling short somewhere along the way, we often take the blame. We put enormous pressure on ourselves.  At the same time we are trying to raise our children to become successful adults, we are also trying to have satisfying marriages, running a household, managing the care of aging parents, and maybe even trying to balance a successful career. That’s a lot. And when a number of those areas aren’t working out quite as well as we planned. It gets frustrating. And depressing. Our mental health is in jeopardy. We need to give ourselves – and each other – a break and stop blaming, criticizing, and judging, or allowing ourselves to be.

That’s why I couldn’t leave well enough alone and not respond to that post. I was thinking about moms who were dealing with things far worse than speeding, and not wanting them to feel that in anyway they were to blame, As the parent of a 17-year-old, I now conclude that how our children turn out has as much to do with luck as great parenting. Like we can only take so much credit for the success of our children, we can only accept so much of the blame. 

I didn’t always see it that way though. I remember how not long ago I was that mom – the mom of a 11 year-old with good grades and perfect attendance, who loved school, was interested in attending Princeton or Yale, and was a finalist in the DARE essay contest. I was certain I knew how to raise a child; thought I’d have those teenage years covered and my kid – through my example and exemplary parenting skills – would be perfect.  I secretly judged other parents who were struggling, and imagined what they must be doing wrong. But before my husband and I could finish patting ourselves on the back, life quickly changed.  Seventh grade happened. And I began to learn that 1) these kids have free will, 2) we only have so much control, and 3) we can’t protect them from everything. And that’s okay.

As our children grow up, our perspective as parents change. Everything I experienced as a cancer survivor and losing my husband to suicide changed my perspective too. I don’t judge the way I used to. I now understand that everyone is dealing with challenges in their own homes and in their own bodies and in their own minds that the rest of us know nothing about. And sometimes we are simply ignorant, unable to see beyond our own perspective at that moment. I have learned as a coach that we are all – our children included – naturally creative, resourceful and whole. We’ll figure this out.

But let’s take care of ourselves – our own mental health – first. It’s like they say during the flight safety demonstration, ” If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.” Especially as parents, we are no good to our children if we don’t first take care of ourselves – eat right, exercise, de-stress as much as possible. That way we have as much energy and as much mental capacity to deal with everything the kids are going to throw at us. Sometimes even still, that’s a tall order. 

We’ve heard it a million times, parenting is the most difficult job we will ever have — and we often have to do it while we deal with our own insecurities, limited perspective, other stressors coming at us from several different directions. All while under the watchful gaze of other parents who think they can do it better. Have you ever looked through a bookstore for a parenting book? Have you seen the number of often contradictory subjects? Do you know why this is? Because we are all unique. Every parent. Every child. There is no one size fits all solution that will work for everyone. We have to find what works best for us.

Remember in my last post when I said, “as if parenting wasn’t a gray hair creating, anxiety producing fiasco that constantly left me in a state of self-doubt already”? Well, I (we all!) don’t need other parents adding to that self-doubt. We need to support one another. We need to approach our relationships with other parents from the perspective of a coach – that everyone is naturally creative, resourceful and whole. Sure we need to look out for each others kids, and talk amongst ourselves to solve problems and discover solutions when there are issues facing our community or our children. But we must work together. Blame, criticism, judgement, and unsolicited advice doesn’t help anyone. 

Most importantly, take care of yourself. We all have the strength we need within ourselves. To find the answers that are right for you and your family, look no further than yourself. Stop listening to everyone else. Trust your instincts, your intuition, yourself. And a journey of self-discovery starts with a clear head. When you’re feeling the heat; get out of the kitchen. Walk away. Get off FaceBook. Meditate. Go for a run. Walk in the woods. Make an appointment with a therapist. Hire a coach. Practice the self-care that works for you. Solving the mental health crisis that I spoke about last week starts with us.

IMG_6338Ramapo Valley County Reservation. Mahwah, New Jersey. April 2017

Hell hath no fury

Hell hath no fury

The alarm went off at 3:15 a.m. yesterday morning. While I didn’t exactly jump from my bed with the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morning, I was up and moving quickly, dressing and gathering items carefully laid out the night before. Perhaps more surprisingly, about 15 minutes later, my teenage daughter was moving too. Usually only an early flight – or for me, a big race! – would have us rising so early. But this day there was no flight to an exotic vacation. There was no marathon – not even a  training run. But this day, we were about to make history.

A little after 4 a.m. the dog had been walked and fed and we were out the door and on the road heading south. Two hours later I began to sense what was about to happen…in the dark on the southern tip of the New Jersey Turnpike…a swiftly moving  concentrated glow of tail lights for miles. It was just passed six. Peace and understanding, friendship and solidarity, cooperation and patience…from the long lines for the ladies room at rest stops in Maryland to enormous crowds on the streets of Washington. It was the Women’s March on Washington. Originally, concieved in response to the November election, it ultimately had less to do with the 45th President, and was more about sending a message to all American law makers that women – as we have a history of doing – will not be silent when something needs to be done. The issues aren’t new. They are many of the same issues women have fought for before.

“Hell hath no fury” is an interpreted line based on a quotation from The Mourning Bride, a play by William Congreve, which reads in full “Heav’n has no rage like love to hatred turn’d / Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d.” (Wikipedia)

Women have demonstrated that we are a force possible of making powerful change.  Real change has occurred because of pissed off women who got fed up and rallied a movement. Women like Bernice Sandler who’s rejection for a professor’s position and being told it was because “you come on too strong for a woman,” led to Title IX prohibiting sex discrimination in education (1972). Women like “Jane Roe,” an unmarried woman who wanted to safely and legally end her pregnancy that led to the Supreme Court ruling recognizing for the first time that the constitutional right to privacy “is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy” (Roe v. Wade, 1973).  Women like Candy Lightner, who after the death of her 13-year-old daughter at the hands of a drunk driver (1980) founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving ultimately cutting drunk driving deaths in half since its founding. Women like Nancy Goodman Brinker who founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in her sister’s memory (1982)  because she felt her outcome might have been better if patients knew more about cancer and its treatment.

It was not only these courageous women, but the 100s of 1000s of women (and men) who supported their efforts after they took that first brave step. Because of these movements girls and young woman have opportunities to learn leadership skills and cooperation from team sports that we now take for granted. Women can manage their healthcare and family planning in a manner they and this physician feel is best (prior to Roe v. Wade, 17% of deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth were the result of illegal abortions). Almost 15,000 fewer Americans are killed each year by drunk drivers than in 1980 and the breast cancer mortality rate has decreased 37%.

Yesterday was about seeing to it that we don’t lose what so many before us have achieved. It was about honoring our values as women and Americans, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for ourselves, immigrants, people of all faiths, races, and sexual orientation or gender identity; by protecting rights and protecting our planet. We will be victorious. We always are. Because we are stong. Because we are powerful. Because we are courageous. And because we are not alone.

The most powerful moment yesterday for me came after we returned home. Looking through everyone’s social media posts about the March, I was struck by a link to a New York Times piece showing pictures from all the marches around the world posted with the message, “Scroll through all of them then see if your eyes are dry by the end. Nothing like this since Vietnam or No Nukes.” He was right. I cried. It was like after 9-11. I finally broke down during that emotional week while watching a news broadcast showing the outpouring of support from around the world. We weren’t alone.

I sunk into my bed around 10 p.m. after 5 hours on my feet and logging 8 miles, bookended by a total of 9 hours driving back and forth. I was grateful for the time with my girl and that we shared this moment in history knowing too this was only the beginning. I coach my clients on the importance of honoring our values. I hope I am also setting a good example for my daughter. It’s okay to get pissed off. As long as you turn it into action.

After a good nights sleep, today it was back to training. I ran 12 miles. With a lot on my mind.

img_5720Washington, D.C. January 21, 2017.

Nollaig shona dhuit!

Nollaig shona dhuit!

Merry Christmas to you! From Ireland. For the first time since my second Christmas…1966…50 years ago…I am spending Christmas in Ireland! This trip was hatched back in July, although it’s probably been in the making all my life. Since finding my biological family over 20 years ago, I had considered the idea as “some year we should…” but other things – and people – kept me in North America and at home in New Jersey most years.

The first year without her father, my daughter and I fled to Cancun for Christmas week with  his mom. There were some redeeming attributes to that trip, for me at least, but my girl said she’d never travel with Grandma again. I honestly should have learned from the 11-day Caribbean Cruise we had taken together for Christmas 10 years earlier. The Mexico trip two years ago, while providing some escape from a holiday table with an empty chair, reminded me too much of the cruise which at times made me sadder. If anything Chris and I were always united against his mother. So a few times when she said something odd, I found myself turning to roll my eyes at someone who was no longer there.

So we were in agreement, no more trips with Grandma. And my daughter said she liked Christmas at home better anyway. Last year we made dinner reservations at The Rock Center Cafe. Essentially home. A quintessential New York City Christmas! Except that it was 70 degrees. And a city packed with people still felt a little empty.

The pros and cons of escaping for Christmas came up in a conversation in July. She admitted that “Christmas at home” didn’t necessarily mean our home, but someone’s home. Christmas was a family holiday. And that’s when she said it, “why can’t we spend Christmas in Ireland.” I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, and a great deal on airfare solidified the plans.

So here we are.

I have had some guilt about not including Grandma in our holidays. Then someone posted this article on FaceBook Surviving the Holidays: 12 Tips for the Grieving. Author Michelle Steinke-Baumgard advises, “be honest with those in your life. Tell them if family time hurts, if you feel lonely in a room full of people who love you. You are allowed those emotions. They are powerful, and they are real.”

So I have accepted the idea that I need to deal with the holidays in a way that is most appropriate for me and my daughter. That’s my biggest responsibility. My former mother-in-law probably feels the same about spending the holidays with me. She declined my dinner invitation Thanksgiving weekend. Change is hard. Especially when it’s about people that are gone. So, so many people that have been part of my Christmases are no longer here. Even the nun that cared for me in Ireland in 1966 has been gone for years now.

It’s better though to live in the present. To feel the bagpipes outside the Church of the Sacred Heart last night when we arrived for Christmas Eve mass. To open presents with my sister’s family. I don’t feel lonely in a room full of people who love me (or a barn full of 43 cows and 5 little calves). This is 2016. We have a big family here in Ireland. And it’s nice to be home.

Shehill Holstein, Couraguneen, County Tipperary, Ireland. Christmas Day, 2016.

 

Ladies, we need to stick together!

Ladies, we need to stick together!

Life coaches practice self-management, meaning I don’t let my own opinions, feelings and experiences come into focus when I’m in a coaching session with a client. That’s what I learned makes life coaching very different than athletic coaching. Life coaching is about helping a client explore where they are at that very moment and helping them discover their own path to navigate the journey – a transformation – toward living the best life they can (the focus on the here and now, rather than the past that has led to that place also makes it very different than therapy). As a running coach, I am called on much more for my experience as a runner and my expertise as a knowledgable “expert” on the sport and training techniques. When I consult with non-profits or provide career coaching to non-profit executives, they also have a certain expectation that I will be sharing my experience because they perceive me as more knowledgeable and that’s why they have hired me. Life coaching is different. A life coach evokes transformation in the client by creating the circumstances and conditions for that growth – not by imparting any kind of expertise or wisdom.

Self management aside, I will admit, that while coaching I learn a lot from my clients. And so often my clients work through their issues and come to conclusions that really resonate with me. This week’s lesson was about the importance of female friendships for women. My client, someone who has worked in non-profits serving elderly clients, talked about older women who don’t do well after their husbands die; they are the ones that don’t have strong bonds with other women. Her conclusion as she transitions into her own retirement was “I now know I won’t isolate myself and get depressed.” That was a big ah ha moment for me.

I’ve been feeling a little down lately. It kind of comes with the time of year. As any of us dealing with the absence of loved ones knows, this time of year magnifies the loss. As much as I want to hibernate from Halloween night to New Year’s morning, that’s impossible and my client made me realize that isolation makes it worse. But it’s not just isolation.  Most of us who haven’t reached retirement age yet would agree that we are out and about and keeping pretty involved and busy, right? What we might be missing though is quality time with women friends – those low pressure gatherings with a genuine, like-minded friend or two with whom we can totally be ourselves.  Too often life becomes all about our kids and our jobs, that we neglect not only ourselves, but our relationships with our girlsfriends…who ultimately are going to be there when no one else is.

I remember all to well the shock and fear I felt after my breast cancer diagnosis. The smarted thing I did almost immediately was reach out to some of the women in my running club that I knew had been there. They not only shared their experiences and offered hope, but they knew what would help me the most.  They got me out for a long run – a support group on the move! They understood me on so many levels and I will be forever grateful for having them in my life. As important as the men in our lives are and all the wonderful things they give us, there is no substitute for the support of a female friend. And together women have accomplished some amazing things (think: Pink Ribbon Campaign or Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Ladies, we need to stick together!

Retirement communities and nursing homes are filled with women! And the happier ones, my client tells me, have cultivated and nurtured relationships with other females. So what can you do today to nurture a female friendship? What will that bring to your life?  What about that is important to you? Think about it – especially now during the holiday season and the long winter ahead.

img_5413Vernon Hills, Illinois. December 2016