3 months and counting

3 months and counting

It’s been over six months since I wrote about the countdown to high school graduation. While I am committed to being respectful of my daughter’s privacy, sharing only minimally about her here, I am entitled to a proud mom moment every once in a while, right?

My daughter was accepted into a four-year college in Chicago (one of her top choices). This might not seem like an impossible feat. Especially here where we live. 89% of our high school graduates go on to attend four-year colleges (95% go on to some post-secondary education). But for us it seemed like a long road.

My daughter was always someone who has marched to the beat of her own drum. My parents described her as “a spirited child.” One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as her parent is that she never accepts the status quo; always looking deeper, always challenging. Her middle school guidance counselor said this was a personality trait that would serve her well in college and career, not so much in middle and high school.

She encountered a structure perhaps too rigid for her personality and learning style. While that was somewhat demotivating for her, my cancer diagnosis and then losing her father when and how she did certainly had an impact on the secure life she had known at home.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

– Viktor Frankl

My daughter’s high school transcript does not show the good choices that she has made and the maturity and growth that she possessed in managing grief and loss on top of the struggles of adolescence. By her junior year she was facing the possibility that maybe a four-year college wasn’t in the cards for her.

But I believed in her. And she believed in herself. We both ignored the naysayers and last summer I took a risk and made an investment in a 3-week college program for her at this school in Chicago. It wasn’t in the budget.

She got an A in the course and proved to everyone she could do college level work. Then she came back to start her senior year and made the honor roll! She finally took the SATs and did much better than expected. She courageously applied to a bunch of four-year schools.

There were a number of disappointments before the email from Chicago. Her surge in the last quarter of the race however, paid off. But most importantly – and what makes me the most proud – is that she mustered the courage to start; she put herself out there when others were telling her that it was a long shot. She didn’t settle for anything less than what she wanted. She set her sights higher and didn’t listen to anyone who told her it couldn’t be done.

That should be a lesson to all of us. Ignore the naysayers. Don’t give them power over you. Be courageous. Focus on your own dreams. Don’t back down. One foot in front of the other. Forward. Commencement.

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The New York City skyline as seen on my run through the Heights of Ridgewood, New Jersey. March 2018.

This week in Marathon Training (getting real now! -only 5 weeks to go)…Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 11.04.35 AM

Twenty miles was the longest I’ve run in almost 2 years and was a big jump from the 16 miles I ran 2 weeks ago. I took it slowly with a goal of only covering the distance comfortably.

How to write a college application essay (a parent’s guide)

How to write a college application essay (a parent’s guide)

I feel a little like my daughter writing her college application essay as I write this week’s post. Or maybe more accurately, not writing it. Since I try to meet my challenge of publishing something at least once a week, I’m always thinking of ideas. I have a word document with just ideas. Then I expand on those, usually in my head on my long runs. I will then do a somewhat stream of consciousness draft that I will further edit into the published version you see.

Sometimes a topic emerges that moves me so much it goes from idea to publishable in a matter of a few hours. Then there are weeks like this one where my mind has been occupied by other priorities – including trying to figure out ways to motivate my daughter to write her essay. I’ve looked at my ideas list and a couple of ‘not quite fully developed’ drafts; none of which motivated me.

So yeah, here my daughter and I both sit with absolutely no motivation. I wonder how I can motivate her, when I’m struggling myself. Is there any advice or guidance I’d like to give her that I can heed myself? I decided to first read the suggested topics for college essays contained on the Common App. Maybe they would give me some ideas.

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9 months and counting

9 months and counting

Just a week into the new school year and I am already thinking of the end…and the new beginning that lies beyond that. Nine months from today – 39 weeks – I will be preparing to launch my daughter – my only child – into the world. Commencement.

High School graduation is Friday, June 22. It’s already marked on my Google calendar. There seems to be something fitting about the fact that senior year is 40 weeks; reminiscent of another time not so long ago when she was first launched into the world.

It was a pregnancy that started in late summer 1999 and ended with her birth in April 2000. I recall subscribing to a “your baby this week” email that provided updates on the assumptive development of my unborn-child. The updated version of which I believe will be distributed at the High School’ s Senior Parents Night next month and discussed copiously in the Class of 2018 Parents Facebook group throughout the school year.

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Navigating an emotional weekend

Navigating an emotional weekend

I procrastinated on this blog all week. I had an idea weeks ago. Wrote a draft. Re-wrote it and then, just now, deleted it entirely. Truth be told, I needed the last couple days to decompress from the weekend before I could figure out what I wanted to say. My emotions were a bit jumbled and I was mad at myself for that. It had been months since I felt this way.

Once I got through Thanksgiving, escaped to be with my family in Ireland for Christmas and made that monumental decision in early January to quit my full-time job to pursue my passion, I was feeling pretty good. Very, very happy honestly. The happiest I had been in a very long time. Cue I Can See Clearly Now (the Jimmy Cliff version from the Cool Runnings Soundtrack, of course).  People have noticed and commented and that has made me feel even better. But this weekend, I slipped back into a bit of a funk. And I was mad at myself for that.

Only today, was it finally pointed out to me, that what I was feeling was valid. I must stop being so hard on myself. Saturday was my birthday. Sunday was Mother’s Day. For someone like me, given what I have been through, experiencing the losses I’ve experienced; this was a very emotionally charged weekend. That is my reality. I am not being selfish for feeling this way. It is what it is. It’s not something I have that much control over.

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Me, my daughter, and my mom. Birthday/Mother’s Day Weekend. May 2000.

But I tried. I filled my weekend with lots of activities and I am grateful for friends who invited me out both Friday and Saturday night. When I woke up Saturday morning, it was raining. Hard. It was also pretty chilly for May. The alarm was set for six because I had to be at the start of our town’s 5k race. This race was the graduation race for both my Let Me Run boys (which I wrote about) and my running club’s beginner to finisher program. Not a great day for a 5k.

I was planning to run with a few of the boys who had set a goal of finishing in under 30 minutes. I knew from our training runs and what they reported from their mile time trials at school last week that this was a realistic goal. I gave them explicit directions: “We’re going to go out together. We are going to take the first mile slowly. Stick with me even if you feel like we’re going too slow. In the second mile we are going to pick up the pace a little. Once we hit the 2-mile marker and have only a little more than a mile to go, I’m letting you lose to run as strong as you can to the finish.” They followed directions!

Everything went according to plan. Two of the boys finished in 27 minutes. I was still running and pacing a boy from the younger group in that last mile. He was running so strong! I kept encouraging him. I wanted this for him so badly. When the finish line and the clock came into view he saw that not only was he going to break 30, he might break 28! He took off! I was so happy for him, happier than I might have been if it was my own personal record.  His official time was 27:59. Mine was 28:01. I finished 4th in my age group. No medal for that. Not my fastest race. But it will be remembered as one of the most special moments in all of my 21 years of running. I walked back to my car in the rain. Smiling. I had forgotten for the moment that it was my birthday.

Mother’s Day started with a 10k race (hey, I had 6 miles on my training schedule anyway) and then my daughter talked me into a road trip to the Philadelphia Zoo. Driving for two hours after running a 10k might not sound like fun for mom, but the prospect of at least 4 hours round-trip in the car with my teenager would mean some good quality conversation – which we had. Plus her suggestion of the Philadelphia Zoo spoke to my soul. As a college student in Philly, the Zoo was a place I frequently went on my own to decompress. In Philadelphia on Sunday, it was warm and sunny. And the Zoo was even better than I had remembered it.

So, on paper, I had a really nice weekend.

Still there were the unspoken emotions ever present as I navigated days that were once shared with people no longer there. That is my reality. I have to remember that and be kind to myself. I have come a very long way, but there are still triggers. There are still – occasionally – difficult days.  No matter how much I think I’ve prepared, they still sneak up on me. Now I know to make self-care paramount.  Run. Meditate. Take the dog for a long walk. Make one of those “as needed” appointments with my therapist. Maybe go to the Zoo.

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The Philadelphia Zoo. Mother’s Day. May 2017.

 

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