Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Helicopter Moms: What have you been doing for the last 18 years?

In the July 2008 issue of Oprah magazine, there is an article on "helicopter moms" -- those moms who hover over their kids when they go to college and beyond, ready to swoop down and "fix" things.

There is a Mother who drives 4 hours to do her college son's laundry. "He's so busy...I'm glad I can help," she says proudly. There is the Mother who checks her child's college assignments online and calls her if she missed class or didn't hand in a paper. There's the Mother who calls her child's friends to ask them how her child is. And then there's the Mother who calls employers and tells them to hire her child. Yet another bargains the compensation package with human resources.

Mothers: what have you been doing for the last 18 years? If you have done your job right -- they will attack life with gusto. The struggle is theirs. Remember when you started out? You struggled, you learned, you made mistakes and fixed them. You grew up. You became an adult.

If you're saying, oh but its a tougher world out there...It's no tougher than when you had at it. Each generation inherits its own world with their new and improved, adapted survival skills.

J.K. Rowling was the invited speaker at Harvard's 2008 Commencement. The title of her speech was: "The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination." Bottom line: her failures were better and bigger teachers than her success.

All the prodding I did to my daughter for not studying was to no avail. It was only when she failed several subjects (School in Mexico is very different from school in the U.S. I won't go into it here.) and had to suffer the consequences, did she begin to take responsibility for her education. Now, she's a serious student.

Helicopter moms are raising a bunch of babies. Hovering is not in the best interest of your child. They have to grow up sometime. Maybe...when you're dead?

I've let go already and my son still has 6 weeks left at home. I'm always here to help, but only if he asks for it.

You can read J.K. Rowling's inspirational speech at

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bittersweet Mothering

I haven’t been writing because I’ve been busy living. Pablo graduates in five days. He’s in his last exams. He’s out partying with his friends and then sleeping late at home.

These are my last days to tell Pablo things about life. But, he doesn’t want to know what I think or what I know about anything anymore. (Hence this blog! Someday, he’ll be very interested and read it all.)

The blog is turning into something entirely different than I had imagined. It began, first, as an attempt to write down my life advice for Pablo, so he could refer to it as needed. Then I began writing my thoughts and advice about the Mothering of an older child.

I was surprised to learn that Mothers of young children are reading my blog, as if I am a beacon of light in the future night. Their children are young, and they read my words with interested dread and say, “Thank goodness I have years before my kids leave home.” Exhausted as they are from their toddlers and grade school aged children, they know how time flies and want to be reminded to love their kids every minute. For these brave, young Mothers, my words are like watching a horror film through half closed eyes: you know this moment will come, but don’t want to imagine it for yourself, but still you want to see someone else do it, you want to see if the heroine (the mother!) gets out alive! And that your children will still love you when they go.

Yesterday, Pablo paged through my Class of 1969 High School Yearbook with me. He was fascinated to see me as a young girl, his age. He (of course!) couldn’t believe the clothes, the hairstyles, the Nixon-Humphrey posters on the walls of the school. He was impressed with the energy, the activities that we had back then. I told him, “I feel the same as you right now, like I was 18, I really do. The body ages, but the soul stays the same age. Always young.”

Then he let me teach him how to really make his bed. (“It’s all about precision,” I said, “You know, geometry – lines and angles.”) He is finally, really realizing that in a few weeks I will drop him off at college and he’ll be on his own. He listened to me discuss washing machines, water temperature, not to mix whites and colors, and to fish his clothes out of the dryer immediately so they wouldn’t wrinkle. I ended with, "You really should wash your sheets at least every two weeks, because people really don't like people who smell." He nodded.

He’s getting a lot of mail from college these days. He chose to fill out his course pre-registration in the living room where I was reading. He thought out loud with question marks in his voice. No surprises yet –Intro to Psychology, to Philosophy, to Literary Analysis and to Shakespeare. He mused between piano, cello and violin. He will try rock climbing as his sport.

I sat there and smiled. It actually felt great not to have to give him my opinion. I may be paying the outrageous college tuition bills, but now, the decisions are his. I understood that the first 18 years of Motherhood are about the Mother being happy with her child's growth and behavior. Now, all that's important, is that Pablo does what makes him happy.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How I became a different kind of "cool mom"

In the teenage movie, “Mean Girls” there is a “cool mom” who wants to be her daughter’s best friend. This mom thinks she will get her daughter's approval (!) by dressing like her and being “oh so understanding,” and jiving with her friends when they come over.

I tried that for about five seconds and my kids let me know: uncool mom.

They want mom to be a mom.
To act like a mom.
To dress your age, whatever that means. (It means different things to different women.)
To act your age, whatever that means. (All women have their personal style.)
To be seen and not so heard.
To be welcoming and available, but not join in, or hover.

One thing I was very clear about, when my kids were growing up, was that I wanted my house to be the house their friends wanted to come and hang out in. That way, I could keep a pulse on what was going on and get to know my kids’ friends, if only in a fleeting way. Better than having your kid disappear to someone else’s house for hours on end and really not knowing what is going on or with whom.

So I’d stock the kitchen with goodies, do the “hellos” and disappear.
When the kids left, I’d say my goodbyes.

And that’s when my kids heard their friends say, “Your mom is so cool.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Teenagers teach you how to let go - Part 2

The reality is: you don't let go of your kids; they let go of you.

Remember when your toddler always wanted to hold your hand? And then came the day when he didn't want to hold your hand anymore.

They let go of you.

Pablo is graduating from high school next week and leaving for college on August 19. My friend Rosalie said to me, “Enjoy your final days with Pablo!”

What’s there to enjoy?
He’s gone already.
He’s always out with his friends.
He’s at work.
He's with his girlfriend.
He comes in late.
He sleeps late.
I never see him.

He’s teaching me how to be without him.

But yes, I will enjoy him.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The power of the grocery store

We spend our lives at the grocery store. It seems we’re always saying, in exhausted tones, “I’m dashing to the grocery store,” and “I’ve got to do the grocery shopping.” It becomes a bore and a chore.

But with my “children” aged 16 and 18, on the cusp of leaving home for college, i.e. forever, I have come to understand that “going to the super” for me, means LIFE. It means: I have a family to take care of, people who are relying on me, I am loved and needed. These days, I cherish going to the grocery, because I understand my days as a Mothering Mom are numbered.

I will soon be entering years of shopping just for me, with no particular urgency, because it will not be a tragedy if I dine on a cup of tea and a tomato sandwich. (One of my favorite things to eat.)

After years of the forced march of grocery shopping, I now recognize that some of my happiest moments have been spent in supermarkets, thinking of what dish to delight my children with, or what I can get away with tonight for dinner that's easy. My kids have always loved it whenI pull into the driveway after my grocery shop. They cheerfully dash out to bring in the groceries, appraising what I’ve bought. "She got cookies!" Nina yells. Pablo is thrilled to discover a favorite hunk of cheese and some great cold cuts that they will eat, Tony Soprano style, standing in front of the fridge, slice by slice.

I love to watch people in the grocery store. I see the rhythm of daily life: exhausted Mothers wondering what to cook, power Mothers with their meticulously planned lists. A young woman studys a can of lentil soup. The white haired couple puts a box of Social Tea biscuits in their cart. A father buys potato chips and charcoal, and two young men at the deli, buy fried chicken, ready to eat.

I think of the stages of my grocery life. First there were the years of mountains of formula, baby food and diapers. Then I shopped first with one child and then the second, sitting in the cart’s seat, kissing and talking to them as I put things into the cart, delighting them with a piece of cheese from the deli lady. I recall the years of heavy entertaining which required “the big shops.” Then, when my Father was old and frail, I roamed the aisles, looking for soft foods to tempt him: donuts, puddings and jellos, baby food (again), and diapers (adult size this time).

My mother’s last trip outside her home was to the grocery store. She wanted to get out of the house and drive somewhere close. So she went to Kings. She told me how she enjoyed the air conditioning, and how nice everything looked, so colorful and bright. She was dying, but she smelled life in the grocery store.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mother of the moment

I'm thinking about how when I was a young mother, it never occured to me that there are different kinds of mothering you do at different moments in your children's lives. These thoughts are all rising up in me as my children become adults and prepare to leave home.

So: You are a different kind of Mother at different moments of your children's lives. Back home from the hospital with your newborn, you are, quite simply, the cow. Your job is to provide milk.

Then you become the teacher. You teach them how to talk, walk, and ETCETERA. The big etcetera takes the next 17 years. LOL! The first time your toddler takes his first steps away from you, realize that they already have one foot out the door, exploring their world. And that your job is to welcome them back, every single time.

As the mother of teenagers, your job is to stop teaching, and to listen. To them.

The job of the empty nest mother is simply to exist.

It is the knowledge of your existence that they want, not your physical presence.

You should be in the house, but not in the room.

You should be there, not here.

You should be alive, not dead.

You have always been here to serve them, but now, you must only be available to help them only when they ask for it.

Memory: The equanimity of George & Helen

It is only now, after the death of my iconic parents, and with the approaching adulthood of my children, that I can fully appreciate the gracious, nonmeddling attitude of my parents toward my life and my brother's life. George & Helen were supportive of whatever we did and let us go. They respected our choices. They let us make our own mistakes and supported us when we needed it.
Mother never complained about spending Christmas or other holidays without us, when we had in-law commitments. Never. I can just imagine she didn't like it, but she never complained. Going home was always a pleasure. They didn't particularly like our choice of spouses...and the ensuing divorces...but they never criticized our choices. WOW! That's a lesson for me. I will keep that in mind!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Teenagers teach you how to let go.

When your children are young, you often wonder what it will be like when your darlings finally leave home for college. It gives you the shudders. You can't and don't want to even imagine it.

It happens in stages. And if you have done your parenting correctly, one day you will find yourself alone on a Saturday evening.

It will be the beginning of a lifetime of Saturday nights you will now begin to spend without your children, who've been the stars of your life for the past 17 years.

Nina is at a cafe, having an evening chat with friends. Pablo is at the bowling alley with a girlfriend, dancing on the electronic dance machines. He took a change of shirt and a water bottle.

Earlier I cooked, and now there is a pot of pea soup simmering on the stove, for whenever they want it, to make them happy to return home and to remind them that Mother loves them madly.

The wine you buy at this stage in your middle aged life should get progressively finer and more expensive, because although you drink less, you should drink better. Always good to have an animal around, preferably a dog, but a cat at least. My hearth is the television with a good, vintage movie playing and a humming laptop by my side. Cyberspace beckons with huge ideas and life everywhere. Good books and the sensual pleasure of knitting with exquisite Italian wool.

The "children" will call on their cellphones if they need me. Long after I've gone to bed, they will arrive home, socially sated. The idea of my kids in the kitchen, while I'm asleep, comparing their evenings over hot soup and then going to bed... makes me feel I've done my job well and that their home will always be a happy place in their hearts.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Psst....It's all about the accessories...

Before I begin to share my tips for beautiful and easy dressing, culled from a lifetime of mistakes and learning… let me get this off my chest.

Have you noticed how the world looks as though they are walking around in their pajamas, or, coming and going to the gym? If you really look at people in the mall or at the airport it will positively hurt your eyes: sweatshirts, exercise clothes, Bermudas, sweatpants, baggy jeans. Ouch!

You don’t have to sacrifice comfort for elegance, ever. Even on long haul airplane flights. Sleek black yoga pants from Lululemon have a great street cut and are comfortably stretchy for long hours squished into a seat. Layered with t-shirt, sweater, scarf…and you’re looking great and comfortable

Natural fibers are your best friend. Natural fibers breathe and they feel good on your skin. They are always classic and elegant. The basics are: cotton, linen, silk and wool.

The classics are the basics. A great pair of good fitting jeans. Khaki slacks. Black slacks. A white cotton shirt. A white linen shirt. A white t-shirt. A black t-shirt. A denim shirt. A flannel shirt. A black sweater. Black skirt. “Little Black dress” Black shoes. Great sneakers. Solid loafers and flats. A wonderfully cut blazer. A trench coat. A great tank bathing suit.

Which brings me to my major fashion secret, which isn’t a secret at all.

It really is all about the accessories. Once you have the basic classics... great accessories make or break an outfit. Accessories are the things that truly define you and set you apart from others. Here’s the litmus test: two women are wearing the same jeans and a white shirt. One woman has a beautiful watch, nice leather flats and an exquisite leather handbag. The other woman has tatty sneakers and a dirty canvas bag. One looks lovely and elegant. The other looks sloppy and…poor.

Today I’m wearing a simple white t-shirt and a black skirt. The reason you won’t mistake me for a waitress is my huge, red bead multi-strand necklace and my Donald Pliner delicate black gladiator sandals.

I learned about accessories when I lived in France. Sit in a cafĂ© in Paris and you’ll see every woman has a gorgeous handbag and an excellent watch. Are they all rich? No. French women save up for one fabulous handbag, instead of having a wardrobe of inexpensive ones. One good watch. One great Hermes scarf. And then they wear it.

Shoes tell everything about you. Buy the most expensive, comfortable shoes you can afford. Everyone has their niche when it comes to what’s an expensive shoe. Even if I could afford them, I am not interested in Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahniks. I have found a comfortable, stylish niche with Donald Pliner and Cole Haan. For sport, Merrill. Expensive shoes do last longer and look better.

Jewelry must-haves. A good, classic watch. One elegant gold ring. Large enough diamond stud earrings. A strand of good pearls. You don’t need a lot, you just need exquisite. After you have the basic pieces, then you can start to play with necklaces, bracelets and rings. Be aware that jewelry is a never-ending lust; you will always see a piece of jewelry that you want. Your taste evolves as your grow older (and richer) as well. Costume jewelry is acceptable if you have great taste and pile it on for effect; not trying to pretend it is something that it isn’t.

Beware your underwear. Life’s too short for stretched out, fugly underwear. Buy it often and throw it out often. When it comes to style, comfort is everything. If you are not comfortable in your underwear…what hope is there for your day? You don’t need to spend a fortune. Good style has trickled down to Calvin Klein, Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic. Start with natural fibers of course, meaning in this case: cotton. Save the lacy little nothings for when you don’t need such support for long hours at a time.

Handbags. Entirely too complicated to go into here. I can hear you laughing…as some of you know, I have a... love... of handbags. Just start with one good black leather handbag, and one evening bag. A beautiful small evening bag dresses up something as simple as black pants and a black sweater, and also can look great with jeans and a t.

Spend what you probably think is a small fortune on a good wallet. You have purchased correctly, if afterwards you moan and say, “Why…I could have bought xx for the same amount of money!” Wallets are expensive. All that craftsmanship in such a tiny space. But how many times a day do you reach for your wallet? At least 20, if not more. Your wallet is a trusted companion and the years it will last will amortize it to a sensible sum to have spent.

If it’s night, it must be black. I always chuckle when someone asks me “What are you wearing tonight?” After all this time do they even have to ask? Is there any other color?

Black is always perfect, chic, appropriate. Black always looks great. Black is always impeccable. Black can look casual, or dressy. The little black dress can go to work, cocktails, dinner, theatre, a funeral. Black slacks and sweater looks good in almost every situation, day or night. Black is also: slimming. Is it any wonder why the people who work at fashion mags wear black?

Alas, when I moved to the tropics, it became impossible to wear black during the day. The white light of the sun just doesn’t work with black clothing. So, white and khaki have become my new black.

What is the single, greatest fashion accessory? A great body. By “great body” I don’t mean you need to be reed slim. Have your own great body – in shape, a good weight, physically fit and most important, healthy. If you are happy with your body, you look good. Try the jeans test: if you look good in jeans and a white shirt…you’re looking good! Sometimes you don’t need to buy new clothes…you just need to lose a little weight.

Overaccessorizing. This is a great piece of WASP advice I learned in Lisa Birnbach's "The Preppie Handbook" that I think is really good. When women dress for the evening, they err towards over accessorizing. So here it is: When you are finished dressing and ready to leave, stand in front of the mirror and take off one thing. Now you are ready to go out. It never fails.

Underdressed is better than overdressed. This is my personal opinion and you can feel free to disagree. Elegance means: pared down, or as Diana Vreeland said, “Elegance is refusal.” Only if I am invited to meet royalty or going to the Vienna Opera Ball, would I even consider wearing a long gown. Simple clothes and expensive jewelry makes me always dressed correctly.

Your fashion signature. After my first visit to Italy years ago…I have always owned a pair of red flats. I learned this from watching those effortlessly chic Italian women who always have something “tweak” their look. Red flats are my finishing touch; they are a smile. What’s your fashion signature?

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Shirt on your back -or- How to get dressed

What's the big deal? You wake up, you get dressed.

Clothing, like almost everything in life, is a paradox. Clothes can make your life miserable or charming. "Clothes do not make the man," and yet, the right clothes for you, can make you a happier, more confident, comfortable person. Wearing clothing that isn't you can make you feel rotten, affect your experience of an event, or uncomfortable in something too tight or too short.

"Don't judge people by the clothes they wear." And yet, we do. The clothing you choose to wear speaks volumes about you.

There are trillions of choices out there. Who are you and what will you wear? What is your style? Why does something look good on someone else and look terrible on you?

Understanding your personal style is a process that can take years. Your personal style can change in your different careers and lifestyle changes. When I worked in the public affairs department of Exxon Corporation in New York City, I wore the constricting, unimaginative uniform of the 80's career woman: silk blouses, stockings, conservative skirts, tailored jackets. I never felt good about these clothes, or the job. These were not my happiest years. I own none of this clothes today.

A few years later I became a copywriter in an ad agency, and I dressed stylish and creative wearing the high fashion of Comme des Garcons, Issey Miyake, Agnes B. I was much happier. I spent a fortune on clothes, none of which I own today, either.

That's because I became a mother and my style changed again, into quick to put on easy to care for clothes that babies could throw up on. I spent a lot of time on the floor too with the babies. So it was jogging clothes, leggings with big tops, jeans.

Then I moved to the tropics where clothes faded and lost its shape in a matter of months due to the calcified water, bleaching from the sun, extreme heat, and mildew. My friend Jean Cappello came to the rescue. "The secret to tropical dressing is to get yourself to the Gap or Banana Republic and buy some great cotton and linen pieces and wear them for six months, then throw them out and start over." Which is what I do and now I always look fresh and stylish.

Some people don't care what they wear. Others obsess. As in everything, the secret to clothing happiness is moderation. You want to get to the point where you enjoy your clothes, dressing is easy and fun, and shopping is not a bother.

Experiment with clothes. Have fun, try different things on. See what looks good on you, what feels good on you. Of course you'll make mistakes from time to time. To be expected. When you find yourself attracted to the same thing, over and over, you'll know it's you.

Tomorrow: my best clothing tips.

Thought of the day

There are two enduring things that we should aspire to give to our children: the first is roots, and the second is wings. -- Hodding Carter

Friday, June 6, 2008

Death "etiquette" -- as if there could be such a thing...

Here are some understatements: Death is as real and common as birth. Death is, actually, life's main event. Death is the ultimate unknown.

But we don’t want to think about it. We don't like to talk about it.

So, when death arrives in our lives via our families and our friends, we feel unequal, insecure and awkward about how to deal with it. Death strips your soul raw. Here are some gentle tips to help you through.

I live in a place where wakes and funerals are an accepted and crucial social event to honor a person’s life and make your love and support known to the grieving family and friends. My kids grew up going to wakes and funerals, and I would like to think they feel comfortable with death in a way that I didn't when I was a child. My parents were so uncomfortable about death they never went to funerals if they could help it.

Don’t shy away from dying people. Visit the dying. They have a lot to teach you. The dying are in a holy state, hovering on an invisible border. They are the closest you can be to divinity in your living, breathing life.

When my father was dying, my Mother and I spent hours sitting with him. He seemed to be very busy in his mind, doing "soul work." If I talked to him, I felt I was disturbing him. I was in despair. I asked a friend who is a pastor and who has sat through many death vigils, "What should I do? How should I be?"

His words comforted me. "Your presence is all that is required. You take your cute from your father. If he wants to talk, listen. If you wants you to talk, then talk. If he wants silence, be silent. But your presence is what is important. Don't feel you hav to entertain him or say dramatic goodbyes. Just be. Be there."

Go to funerals. Your presence gives comfort to the friends and relatives. Your presence is an honor to the deceased, bearing witness to the goodness of their life. You don’t have to worry about what you should say or do. Anything you say or do is perfect. It is your presence that is everything. An embrace, a hand holding says volumes.

Death does not mean an end to your relationships. Whatever relationship you had with the person in life, will be the same one you have in death. Yes, when someone dies, your earthly relationship with that person is over. You can’t sit at a table and share a meal, you can’t call them up for a chat on the phone.

But your emotional and psychological relationship with them never ends. Conflicts that you didn’t resolve with them during your earthly time together will reappear until you work through them. Your relationship is never over with the people you loved in your life.

Tears are a good thing. This is no time to be dry eyed. Cry as much as you can, as much as you want. You’ll cry for every reason – for what was resolved and what wasn’t. For what you said and what you didn’t. Because you’re sad for yourself, because you’re sad for their family. Souls can hear you.

Death is a maestro, the ultimate teacher. Every person’s death that you experience should bring you closer to life, and to your own life. Let death bring you closer to your loved ones, help you to mend broken relationships, release the hate and vonfusion in your heart.

Don’t judge other people’s death. Dying is a messy, human business. Since we only die once, dying is not something we know how to do. There is no right or wrong way to die. Some countries, like Holland, have legal euthanasia. Others countries have organizations, like Exit in Switzerland. There is no easy way out. It is just as hard. Just as in childbirth, any behavior that gets you to the end result is fine. Every person’s death is unique and to be honored.

Letting go is hard. Often, it helps, when a person is in the final stages, to assure them that they are doing great, that there is nothing to fear, that everything will be okay, that you will be okay, that they can let go. Often, dying people need “permission” to let go. Sometimes people die precisely when you leave the room.

My brother was plagued by the fact that he was not with our Mother when she passed away. She died in her bed, in her bedroom, in her home, cared for lovingly by my brother. He had gone downstairs to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. When he came back to her room, she had passed. He felt guilty. I told him that I couldn’t die in front of my children, that my all-encompassing love for them would make it hard for me to leave. He took comfort in my words.

Don’t ignore your feelings about death. Acknowledge them. If you feel frightened, uncomfortable, whatever, live all these feelings, think about them. Death is the ultimate unknown and all our fears are justifiable.

Read books bout death, both clinical and spiritual. When my Mother was dying, I learned a lot from talking to the Hospice workers, and from reading a lot of material published by the hospice movement.

Grieving takes a long time. Expect death to shock you, to make you feel vulnerable, exposed and unimaginably sad. Grieving takes on different strengths, different faces and different stages. It can take years to “get over” someone’s death. And you never really “get over” a death of a loved one.

Often at first, when a friend or family member dies, you feel relief. This is natural. You have just seen this person suffering. And now, they are at rest. The grief will come later. The mourning comes in waves and in stages. It lasts longer than you think.

Let time do its gentle work on you.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

More thoughts on death

When Pablo borrows the car to go out for the evening I always say, “Please drive carefully.”
“Of course,” he says flippantly.
“No, really,” I say.
“Well, we’ve all got to die sometime,” he replies with the insouciance of youth.

When you are young, you feel invincible. Death is a fuzzy concept, something that happens to other people, to old people. You can’t even imagine your own death.

We Mothers know how fragile life is. We know that death is always only one breath away, one heartbeat away. My job as your Mother, when you were born, was to keep you alive. My job, for the rest of my days, is to wish you happiness and life.

The “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” is a book that I keep by my bedside. Not because I am morbid, but because I am life loving. The Tibetan idea is: if you are always aware that you are going to die, you will live a better life. This book helps me to live joyfully every day. Instead of waking up in the morning and saying, “Oh, okay,” taking it for granted that you woke up alive, the Tibetans suggest you think, “My God, I’m alive! A miracle! Another amazing day!”

Being born and dying are the only two things you have in common with every single creature on this earth.

I ask that you let the awareness of your death and the death of loved ones help you to live each day joyfully, fully, lovingly, intensely, freely, lightly. Live always respecting the sheer miracle of being alive. See "the tiger in the grass" every day because he is indeed, hovering there.

In Sherwin Nuland’s illuminating book, “How We Die,” he discusses people’s desire for “a good death.” But "a good death" is a myth, he says, there is no such thing. Dying is hard work and traumatic. He continues: the only way to have “a good death” is to live a good life, meaning, a life that is rich and full and satisfying for you.

I prefer the term “passing over” rather than death. Death signifies an end, a termination. I personally don’t believe in this. Yes, the physical body dies. But the soul does not cease to exist. The soul, that which gives life to our flesh and blood, is divine, it is the energy of our consciousness, and when we pass, this energy transforms into something else.

Believe in angels. They abound all around us. In many forms, both seen and unseen.

Here is an excerpt from “Facts of Faith” by Henry Scott Holland that brings me comfort when I miss my Mother, which is...every day.

Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way, which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Thinking about death

Death has been on my mind lately...and always, actually. Tomorrow, I'll share some of my thoughts on death with you …but for today, I leave you with a pensamiento by a favorite author of mine, who published her first novel in 1978, "Stones for Ibarra" when she was 68 years old.

Yesterday was my eighty-fifth birthday, and my son, who has had lung and brain cancer for two years, gave me a toy stuffed tiger as a reminder to write, without further delay, a short account of my long life…
…It was only four years ago that I realized I was making my way through the thickets of life together with a scarcely visible, four-footed companion, who matched his steps to mine.
I first learned of the tiger in the examining room of my glaucoma doctor.
Sitting in a black revolving chair, my chin in a rest, my forehead against a strap, and facing an intense light about to be focused on my inner eye, while the doctor at his illuminated glass counter made entries on my record, I turned pessimistic.
“Let us hope,” I said, “that I don’t lose more sight in my right eye,” and went on, “since I have only peripheral vision in my left.”
Without turning from my folder, the doctor said, “Don’t belittle peripheral vision. That’s how we see the tiger in the grass.”
Then he added, “It’s also how the tiger sees us.”
In this way, at the eye clinic, almost at the end of my life, I met and recognized the tiger that was mine and had been from the start.

-- "The Tiger in the Grass" by Harriet Doerr

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My Defining Moment: The Black Box

A defining moment is one that can change the course of your life, change your thinking, and open the world to you in new ways. If you are perceptive, you might have several defining moments in your life. Often, you don’t realize it is a defining moment until days, weeks, months, or years after.

I wanted to tell you about my first, adult, defining moment. I didn’t know it was a defining moment at the time, it just seemed like an experience.

I was an average student in high school – entirely undistinguished and unformed. I drifted through Tenafly High in a cloud of painful self-consciousness, the typical self-doubting adolescent haze.

Chemistry class was the bane of senior year, with the difficult hurdle of its pass/fail chem labs. The first lab was the famous “Black Box.” Away from our prying eyes, Mr. Colombo, our chem teacher, (in my memory, forever wearing his beige lab coat) put an object into a black wood box and nailed it shut. Using the principles of scientific observation we had to figure out what was inside The Black Box.

For one week we could hold it, weigh it, shake it, smell it, listen to it. We could do anything but throw it, or open it. Among ourselves we talked and talked, in study hall, in the cafeteria, at the football game, at gym, in the library, on the phone, as we walked to school in the mornings and home in the evenings, trying to collectively put our observations together and guess what was inside The Black Box.

After a few days, everyone decided it was an empty film canister. Back in 1969 (!) cameras used film, and the film came on a metal canister.

This didn’t make any sense to me at all. A film canister was even, it was light, and it didn't wobble. Whenever I held the box, the object had an uneven roll and an uneven weight, it tilted and seemed to fall on its heavy side, causing it to wobble.

But who was I to think it could be something else, me, Liza Dunkel, not an honors student, me against 120 classmates.

I tried desperately to imagine what it could be. Then, one day during class, my eyes settled on a row of acid bottles. The glass stopper of an acid, or poison bottle, is thick and rounded on the bottom, with a thin plaque to grip it on top. Placed on its side, it rolled and wobbled unevenly. Bingo.

I told my best friend, Janet Feigelson, the super smart star of the honors classes, about my idea of the acid bottle stopper. I told Sharon Goldstein and Mark Jay and other smart kids. They shook their heads. “No way," they said, "It’s a film canister."

No one heard me because I was “just” Liza Dunkel, a nobody.

Everyone wrote up their labs in the little blue books, laying out the arguments about why it was a film canister. For awhile, I actually considered joining everyone, because I could not believe that I could figure out something so different from 120 other people. I had so little confidence in myself, how could I possibly be right? And what if they were all right and I was the only one in the entire senior class who flunked the first chem lab?

But in the end, I just couldn’t do it. I had heard and felt the object tilt. A film canister doesn’t tilt.

Finally, the big day arrived for the great opening of The Black Box.

I had chemistry first period. Standing beside the stack of graded blue lab books, Mr. Columbo smiled at us and shook his head. “What a bunch of dummies,” he said. Everyone groaned. He proceeded to toy with us, lifting off the top of the Black Box looking inside and replacing the top.

“In all of the senior class, there was only one person who guessed correctly what was in the Black Box.”

My head and heart were pounding. Could I be this person? Could it be me? No! I wasn’t smart. How could I alone have figured it out and no one else? No, it must be someone else.

“And that person…is sitting right here in the front row!” he shouted, pointing at me! I screamed with joy amidst the uproar in the room as he held up the glass stopper of an acid bottle.

After class, the word flew through the halls of Tenafly High. I floated with happiness for the rest of the day as I was congratulated (even by Eddie Harris) and looked at with new eyes.

Maybe I was smart, after all. Could I even be, special? The Black Box was the first lesson I had about the need to believe in myself, to listen to myself, to rely on what I thought was true. The Black Box was a premonition of great things to come. It wouldn’t be until college that I would realize my great potential.

Remember children to seize your defining moments and make them yours. I wish you a lifetime of defining moments.

Monday, June 2, 2008

What's wrong with this equation?

Just some wistful thoughts for you sons and daughters to think about. And also for you Mothers out there too.

When your children are young, you are their hero. Their faces light up when they see you. You can do no wrong. You are their world, their joy, their survival.

Then they get older, and comes the moment when they tolerate you with a smile. They still need you, but you begin to embarrass them. Your sheer existence bugs them.

And then comes the moment I’m in right now. My son can’t wait to leave home. He wants no Mother in his daily life…just a Mother out there – somewhere.

There’s something wrong with this equation. Our children are the beings we love most dearly in our lives. We cherish them, raise them, educate them and then at 18 – after all that loving, which will never stop on our part… we must let go of them, because they want nothing more to do with us!

The only consolation, of course, is that we all felt this way too. Ready to get away from our own Mothers and claim our lives. Ready to live without Mother watching.

It is our turn to let go. It comes with the territory. And if you let go properly, you become the Mother that your kids want to come home to. And after some time passes, you become the Mother who they enjoy being with, again.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, in her new collection of stories “Unaccustomed Earth” writes:

"He remembered his children coming home from college, impatient with him and his wife, enamored of their newfound independence, always wanting to leave. It had tormented his wife and, though he never admitted it, had pained him as well. He couldn’t help thinking, on those occasions, how young they’d once been, how helpless in his nervous arms, needing him for their very survival, knowing no one else. He and his wife were their whole world. But eventually that need dissipated, dwindled to something amorphous, tenuous, something that threatened at times to snap… ...The entire enterprise of having a family, of putting children on this earth, as gratifying as it sometimes felt, was flawed from the start."