Archive for July, 2008

Zen Attitude?

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Kids are underfoot, hot and bored. Carpet guys are huffing and puffing in the bedroom, installing new carpet, and my entire second floor is crammed full of homeless furniture. Glass guys came to finish the shower… and the glass was cut the wrong size. The new toilet is running. The plumber is owed money and the checking account is empty. Tomorrow is vacation. Packing has not yet been even considered.

Well, I feel frazzled, but I also feel lucky. Once this hell is over — this renovation we were forced into because of leaking pipes — we will have peace in our lives again. The past six months the house has been such a disaster zone: dust everywhere, always; strange men here on a daily basis;  trash on our driveway; pounding hammers while I’m trying to work; endless errands and decisions to make PLUS a full time job to hold down. Not to mention that my office is relocated into the study so I can’t find anything and my internet connection is iffy.

Lesson learned: never do a renovation while you’re launching a book.

But here’s what I’ve also learned: when I am Zen about things, I can handle the upheaval much better. Why get angry about things you can’t control? I’m sure this attitude has tacked three months onto this project, but at least I haven’t slit my wrists.

I find people are easier to deal with when I’m friendly and understanding, even if, inside, I’m going nuts. It’s part of trying to have an attitude about life that is at once accepting and yet also firm and aware of priorities. I decided back in January when this hell broke loose with the house, that this was not going to be my undoing.

And it hasn’t been.

Well… not quite… yet…

You Are What You Think

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

“You are after all, what you think. Your emotions are slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.” Elizabeth Gilbert

It took me a while to really trust in the idea that you create your own reality by how you think. At first I thought self realization and affirmations and controlling destiny with thoughts was basically gobbledygook.

OK: I wish I had a million bucks! Well that’s not going to happen, now, is it? But there’s more to this self-realization stuff than I realized.

I first came across these ideas in this wonderful book about unleashing creativity: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She talks a lot about acknowledging your negative thoughts and then banishing them. I remember being utterly nonplussed by one suggestion that involved looking in the mirror, grinning at yourself and saying “I love you” to your image every morning. It just seemed forced and false to me. Who cares if I love myself?

Well, a lot has changed in my life since I read that book about six years ago. First of all, the messages slowly seeped their way into my consciousness. Over time, as I struggled to build my career and also bring up my children, I was able to see what she was really saying. My thoughts of being burdened or stuck or frustrated were what made me feel burdened or stuck or frustrated! I had the power to take back control. In fact, I was the only one who really had that power, no one else could or would do it for me.

I recently made a dream board, in which I pasted images from magazines or the internet on a poster board. Those images represent my dreams for the future. Just the act of doing that has made me feel empowered. Maybe I will get on Oprah! Maybe Mothers Need Time-Outs, Too will become a bestseller! Maybe my novel will be a blockbuster and that million bucks will be mine after all…!

What are your dreams? If you can become a believer too, the small and big dreams you have may just come true.

Selfish, a la Gilbert

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

I just recently re-read Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, EAT, PRAY, LOVE and I was astonished, time and time again, how applicable many of her insights are to motherhood. I found this amazing because the very thing that set her off on her devastating quest for fulfillment was her fear of having children. This bucking of expectation, and the subsequent self-loathing and doubt, led her on a journey to figure out who she really was and what she really wanted — and needed — from life.

When women embark on motherhood, it’s all too easy to immerse ourselves utterly in this role. Being a mother is satisfying, time-consumming and incredibly important. What could be more noble than to give ourselves over to the job 100%?Here’s the rub, though. As women and as mothers, we may wish to be altruistic, serenely patient and giving all the time, but frankly it’s not really possible. We can spend a few years working ourselves so very hard that we’re in a blur most of the day, but eventually we just hit a wall. Sometimes it takes just a few years. Sometimes it doesn’t hit until the kids are out of the house. But show me a woman out there who does not one day turn to herself in the mirror and say, Huh? Who the hell are you?

Mothers have an almost visceral reaction to the word selfish. But what I liked about Gilbert’s book was her willingness to call a spade a spade. She struggled with the idea of selfishness, and came to the conclusion that that there are two kinds: one that hurts others and one that is all about knowing and caring for yourself (not at someone else’s expense). Of course we should not be so selfish that we hurt others, especially not our children.

But think about this for a minute: when our kids become adults, they will face a world that is largely indifferent to them. People will tell them to shut up, to get out of the way, that they did a bad job or have a bad idea. People will not give them undivided attention, never let them fail, and catch them when they stumble. Kids have to learn that the world does not revolve around them.

Having a mother who is strong and independent enough to insist on the right to be a little selfish every now and then, to have her own desires and needs, ends up being good for kids in the long run. After a lot af agonized soul-searching, Gilbert comes to this conclusion in her own way: it is better for the universe when she can find a way to be true to herself.

Living a lie is not good for anyone.

Glass Half Empty

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

A month ago, back in late June, my son Peter started moaning, “Summer’s almost OVER already!”

I felt his pain. Here in the Northeast, those of us who hate frigid winters spent indoors (peeling off our dry skin and shivering in the drafts of hundred-year-old houses) live for the summer. We relish every hot second of it. Who cares about humidity? At least we’re not wrapped in ten-foot-long scarves and wearing those horrendous things on our feet called Uggs (this from someone who does not like looking like a androgynous dwarf).

It’s almost the end of July and I’m starting to have that same sinking feeling in my stomach… hmmmm, do the kids need new backpacks? Hmmm, what was that reading assignment Greta had? Hmmm, am I gonna make it into carpool this year or will I be stuck on my own again?

It all is very gloomy: the end of summer looms.

Back when Peter was lamenting the passing days, I really felt sorry for him. The poor kid couldn’t even begin to enjoy his free time because he was so very aware of how limited it would be. You can’t find much peace in the moment if you’re always looking ahead to the future.

It’s the typical glass-half-empty conundrum.  Kids and adults alike make their lives soooo much easier if they can only have a glass-half-full attitude. A young colleague of my husband’s, a beautiful girl named Lexia, died a few weeks ago of leukemia. Every time I saw her she was full of beans, excited about her prospects for recovery. She was such a happy soul. I often wondered whether I would be able to react that way in her situation. What a blessing for her — and those who loved her — that she was a glass-half-full girl.

So even as I see fall just around the corner (and all those errands and carpools and searching for lost but absolutely crucial items), I want to sink into the everyday and enjoy the moment I’m in. I don’t want to either dread or look forward to fall, I want to savor now. Because this is it, this is life. Who knows what will happen in one, two, three months.

If there’s one single lesson I would like to teach Peter, it’s to give up worrying about things you can’t control and to let yourself focus with energy and positivity on just where you are at any given moment.

Summertime Time-Outs……

Monday, July 21st, 2008

What constitutes a time-out in the summer?

Yesterday, it meant getting up at 5:40 am and bombing into downtown Boston to my Writer’s Co-op to work12 hours straight on my novel.

Today I’m up at 6am to get a couple of hours of work done before the kids wake up.

This from a woman who could not open her eyes before 11am B.K. (Before-Kids).

In the summertime the hours of the day are not my own. Suddenly, from comfortable 8-hour workdays during the school year, I have to cut back significantly and do a lot of work at unusual times. Early mornings when the mist is still hanging thick and soupy over everything, at night when the cool air keeps me awake and at weekends, when my husband takes over.

And while, in a way, it’s frustrating not being able to work as I usually do, it’s also a gift. Spending unstructured time with my kids is ALWAYS rewarding. Giving up on being efficient (and not feeling guilty about it!) just feels good.

So… be inefficient, be lazy, parse your time well and you will get a little it of everything this summer. And you’ll enjoy it too!

Time-Out for Writers

Friday, July 18th, 2008

Writing is a funny business. What is work? What is day dreaming? What is wasting time? What counts and what doesn’t count?

Many of you reading this who are in the creative field will know exactly where I’m coming from. When your hubby or a friend asks, “So, what did you do today?” and you answer (maybe just a touch defensively…), “Well, I worked,” sometimes it’s not really the kind of work they’re thinking of.

I watched a Fassbinder movie, so shoot me! I mean, well, um, for me that’s actually work. I went to a bookstore and checked out books about teens. Again, real work. So, I watched TV, work! HARD WORK!

I’m only half kidding here. Inspiration comes from the strangest places and at the strangest times.

While I was away with the kids in Germany, I was all theirs. I didn’t take my laptop, I didn’t answer (or even check) e-mail and I took no business calls. “Work” was on hold. I listened to them, spent every waking hour with them, had fun with them and also hung out doing nothing.

But that stretch of ten days was incredibly rewarding for me in terms of work. I had ideas for three new books, which I am so excited about. I carried around a little notebook with me in which I jotted everything down. I planned a new workshop I want to run in the fall, a non-fiction book project I’m going to start, and I figured out my next novel! I even started day-dreaming about a writing book I’m going to work on once I get famous. Dream big, I say…

So taking a little time to relax actually proved to be very fruitful professionally. And my kids got a happy mom to boot. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

Reality Check

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

How many times a day do you use your microwave?

How often do you unload your dishwasher?

How many loads of laundry do you do?

If you live in an apartment, do you have an elevator?

The first evening we were in our rental apartment in Berlin, I made noodles for the kids on the burners that sat atop an oven that looked about big enough to fit an itty bitty chickling in it. I was going to give an extra little shake of the box (as I always do… you can never have too many noodles in my house) when I realized, hmmmm, there’s no microwave.


Each night after I made food for us all, I hand washed the dishes. I knew I should make the kids do it (chores and all–you know, keeping it real even on vacation), but I also knew they’d do a horrible job…


I packed lightly for everyone. I thought, hey, we have an apartment. We’ll have a washing machine.

Think again. After about three days, we just wore filthy clothes. So we fit in fine with the “milieu.”

Each day after endless hours walking, the kids still had enough energy to race up the four flights to the apartment. It was a novelty to them that there was no elevator.

They never complained about the lack of amenities. They kind of took it in, nodded sagely, and thought to themselves, thank God we live in America.

Brave New World

Monday, July 14th, 2008

My German aunt, Jane, lives in subsidized housing in Berlin. It reminds me of the council estates in England or the apartment blocks in Eastern Europe: tiny apartments stacked up on one another with minuscule balconies filled with satellite dishes and dying plants. Lots of graffiti and green plastic carpeting. Rottweilers and German Shepards. Men in parks drinking beer at 8:30 am.

She got us an apartment like hers just south of the city center, walking distance from everywhere. It was small and servicable, and when you walked up the four flights you passed many identical apartments with the smell of German cooking lurking in the hallways.

It was not what you would call glamorous, in any way. Svenja slept on the indoor/ outdoor carpeting at the foot of my bed, Peter on the couch in the living room and Greta kept me up at night grinding her teeth next to me.

But it was heaven. In the mornings, I got up early and got coffee and delicious German buns at the bakery around the corner, served by a heavily made-up Turkish woman wearing a habib. We picked our way around trash, old men peeing on trees, rowdy Turkish kids creating havoc, and scary-looking tatooed security guards at the local supermarket.

How this could possibly be heaven?

I felt totally safe, probably becuase I grew up in the city and this was an immigrant part of town, urban and a bit rough but not scary. My comfort level rubbed off on the kids. I told them to watch for stepping in dog shit (man, I thought us Germans were more fastidious!) and explained the immigrant situation in Germany (tricky to say the least). I speak German, so that helps of course.We walked everywhere. We saw all kinds of Germans — all colors, all shapes and sizes, all ideologies.

Point is, it was exposing them to the real Germany… how people live behind the scenes. And it fet so good to see them being flexible and open-minded, commenting on the strange things around them without being intimidated or feeling as though they didn’t belong.

They are citizens of the world, and I’m really proud of that. It made the trip all the more fun for me.

It Gets Easier (in Some Ways)

Friday, July 11th, 2008

When the kids are little, family vacations are often more work than fun. I can remember vacations where I got no sleep, no rest and certainly no me-time. I also remember having a sore back (from carrying all that JUNK) and a bad attitude (from dealing with screaming toddlers in public areas).

Well, for those of you with little guys at home, rest assured that you get your vacations back. At least until your cute toddler passes the innocuous pre-teen stage and turns into a mono-syllabic Marilyn Manson…

My kids can walk by themselves. They can carry their own things. They talk to each other and not just to me (so I can actually think a full thought). They have their own interests and come up with funny insights. I know they won’t starve to death or die in front of a careening black taxi in a crooked one way street in London.

What a relief. For the past few years, I have been savoring every second of our annual summer vacations, storing it up for entertainment purposes for when I am 90 years old, drooling in my rocker, reminiscing about the good old days.

And the best part is always… coming home!

Beared Ladies and Teeny Cars

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

One of my favorite things about taking the kids to Germany (where I was born) or England (where I grew up) is the hilarious things they notice.

Greta can’t get enough of the itsy bitsy, teeny weeny cars. We rented a “people mover” (yes, we all live in the same century, but you’d never know) which turned out to be a mini van. That’s a mini minivan: the biggest one they had is barely bigger than a VW Beetle.

Peter loves the facial hair. He is forever commenting on people’s mustaches and beards. I guess it’s true us Germans are a hairy lot. Hence my closet full of razors and Nair.

Svenja has a shoe fetish. For a child who could be dressed in a sack and not give a damn, this is kind of funny. She likes them to be JUST SO and to be tied or buckled JUST SO and they have to be THIS COLOR and NOT THAT COLOR. So we’ll be walking around and instead of looking at the ancient buildings or the exhibitions, she’ll be head down, checking out people’s feet.

And Germans have some pretty funny taste in shoes, let me tell you. Socks and sandals are IN.

So this time together as a family isn’t so much about learning about history or being immersed in culture, as it is about being a family. Having the time to relax together in a new and different environment where all sorts of norms are questioned.