Slow Childhood

“Seven hours of consecutive sleep.” That was my birthday wish after having Kid #2. My mother laughed and promised me this phase would be over before I knew it. At the time, that fact didn’t penetrate my sleep-deprived brain. I didn’t believe her.

Now I do.

One minute they are drooling and observing wakeful hours whilst everyone else is asleep; the next minute they are interviewing for summer jobs and wowing the pants off you.

Children. They grow up too fast. I advocated a Slow Childhood for my kids, trying to stave off the electronic invasion into their innocent young lives. Step by step they got cell phones (“only for emergencies”), then an Xbox (“only for rainy days”), a laptop (“only for schoolwork”) and ultimately an iPad (“only to listen to their grandfather’s stories”).

Only these things serve multiple purposes and before you know it, you have lost the battle of Slow in their increasingly fast lives.

So I introduced “gadget-free zones”, which they pretty much observe (or feel incredibly guilty about when they do not). And family meals, which is mandatory in my house almost every day. And when it comes to major family gatherings, they will go whether they like it or not. Luckily, they like it a lot.

Although I have spent my entire post-child career working from home and have had ample opportunity to bear witness to their daily lives, I am still amazed that, despite my very best efforts, their childhood is nearly over. I find myself hanging out in my daughter’s room, using the excuse that “the light is better here” to apply my make-up. But what I really want is to spend yet another precious minute with her. To be in her space. To take in her aroma. To feel connected just a little longer.

Or I’ll create a reason to ask my son something as he flips through YouTube videos. Through his closed door I listen closely to his laughter and to the clock ticking away another minute of our togetherness.

In my own personal assessment, I am far from a hovercraft mother. I have allowed my kids to fly transatlantically on their own with layovers in foreign countries at the age of 12 and 14. I have sent them to camps and school trips and to friends’ houses for overnights. In their eyes, I am Mama Bear, who growls the instant her young are in danger. “Or perceived danger, Mom. Sheesh!” Somewhere, deep down, I believe they love that protective side of me. But they never fail to complain — or laugh — about it.

We may not be able to hold back time, but we can enjoy the precious moments we have. As I watch my kids grow into young adults, I am made fully aware that each day represents another unit in our personal bank account of time on the road to the end of our days.

It is my greatest hope that they embrace the Power of Slow along that journey. Then I will know I have taught them well.

 

The Mightier Pen

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. In times like these, when airports where my children were supposed to be, blow up thirty-six hours prior to their arrival, I am apt to take pen to paper to make sense of it all. Only it is senseless to try to make sense of something so incredibly violent, deadly, disruptive and hateful. While there is power in Slow, there is something so incredibly powerless about ambush, anger and anxiety. It wraps its grip around our necks, daring us to breathe.

And I dare to breathe.

I dare to claim, even in moments like this one, that 98% of people are good. That 22,000 individuals who have committed themselves to hating others, cannot stop me from loving, living and laughing. They cannot stop me from seeing my family. They cannot stop me from believing in the power of prayer, the Universe and That Which is Good. In everyone.

Terrorists are pawns. They execute orders from others who are kept out of harm’s way. They are driven — in brain-washed insanity – to take their own lives and those of others around them. They truly believe they will be rewarded. Oh, they will be rewarded! With yet another life, coming back this time as perhaps an ant or a microorganism. And they get to come back over and over again. They get to start anew until one day they get it right.

I told my children that if anything ever happened to them as they glide through European borders — or anywhere in this world — that I would hate that person, that forgiveness would not come easy and that I would need a lot of people to raise that threshold of inhibition within me not to lash out in kind. But that the only way our world can get better is — through our own extreme efforts — to fight fire with water.

It is the only way. And so I dare to breathe. I dare to live. I dare to love. Beyond borders. Beyond terrorists. To celebrate the 98%.

 

The Wings to Fly

Time is the most precious resource we have. How we spend our days informs how we experience life. We are challenged, but that is not what matters. What counts is how we move forward even when obstacles cross our paths.

Watching children grow into young adults is incredibly gratifying. As parents, we are tasked with giving them wings. We walk a fine line between granting them too much attention and not enough. We pray we get it right. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we do not. My guideline has always been to hold the space for their greatness while giving them room to breathe. The only way they can figure out who they are is to let them join the inquiry. Simply telling them won’t help. Allowing them time to show themselves will.

Last week I gave my son his first “real” camera. The look on his face was priceless as he held his beloved Pentax in his hands for the first time. It was as if he had received meaning and purpose and the tools to live out his life in a powerful way. The next morning as he talked about camera settings, angles and lenses, I realized his wings had grown exponentially and in that second, I saw he now has the ability to flap away from me. It was a bittersweet moment. One day he will.

Letting go is a hard thing. We want to protect our progeny with all our might, knowing full well that we cannot shield them from the world. Not really. We trust, as they ride their bikes to school or take trains and airplanes to far away places, that others will observe traffic rules and other regulations. We must relinquish control and believe in the goodness of everyone.

This past weekend I caught a glimpse of who my children are becoming – amazing individuals with epic talent and kindness. They humble me daily and I now know what is truly important. The time we spend together is what counts. Everything else is secondary.

Our family life differs from many. In fact, family is defined by anyone who wants to join our tribe. Our wings grow with the number of people underneath them, if only for a moment. I have seen the importance of everyone getting what they need, including me. It has been a long and winding road, but as long as we are together in spirit, no bump along the way can topple us.

Yes, how we spend our days informs the life we lead. The time is now to live that life to the very best of our ability.

The Frenzy of Immediacy

Ping. Click. Bing. Bloop. Blip. Huuuuuunnnn!

How often do you hear these sounds on an average day? And each time you do, your attention is pulled away from what you are doing to what someone else wants you to know.

Parenting in a digital world is a lot different than the pre-digital age of raising kids. You can’t get away from the demands as easily. In fact, you are on your guard 24/7, thanks to smartphones and other devices.

Just recently, my teenage son discovered the power of pissing Mom off by simply sending an evocative text message claiming this thing or that — because he wanted things a different way after all. Falling prey to the frenzy of immediacy, I would give him a reaction every time. I thought I was being a good, attentive mother, addressing my son’s needs, responding with discipline or reward, depending on the circumstances. But then, just this afternoon, as another ping, whirl, bing message hit my iPhone’s screen, I realized I didn’t have to give in to the temptation to give a reaction at all to my son’s complaining that he didn’t want to go to tutoring, despite our agreement this morning (and last night — and last week!) that he would. I could remain silent, not pay attention, ignore him. Just this once.

I realized what I had done all these months. With my immediate responses, cajoling, explaining, reacting, I had filled the space where his conscience should be. He didn’t have a chance to listen to his inner voice because it was replaced by my own. So I waited to see if he would indeed hear it. Within four minutes, he sent a third and final message that agreed he would go to tutoring after all. Even though he felt he didn’t need it.

He had been given time to review the countless conversations we had had about the importance of being your word. Of doing what you say you are going to do. To do things that are right, even if they are sometimes uncomfortable.

In our modern, gadget-saturated world it is tempting to react to every little message that crosses our path. It’s exhausting. And unnecessary. Sometimes sleeping on it is better. Looking at things with fresh eyes, instead of frenzied ones, can reveal the truth behind the situation. But what we need — above all else — is to give ourselves the time to digest what is truly important.

In a world drenched with information, silence is golden – more often than we think.

A little bit can go a long way

My friend’s face loomed large on my iMac screen. She had forty minutes before her next appointment. It had been too long since we last spoke. And now, because I too had been ten minutes late, we had less time together than planned.

“How’s life?” I asked.

“Too fast,” she said.

She listed all the things she had to accomplish, in a vague, distracted way. It wasn’t clear to me why she was overwhelmed exactly. Yes, having two school kids and a part-time job can be stressful, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it herself. We talked about how fast life is in the US – how incredibly crushing it can be to go from one activity to the next. All the while trying to look good and perfect and sensible.

I shook my head with empathy.

“It’s exhausting. But somehow everyone is stressed out. It’s as if you aren’t a good person if you’re relaxed.” Her story isn’t the only one I have observed. Others from my circle of friends and family complain about how hard it is to keep pace. When asked what they are keeping pace with, I watch them turn their heads slightly, as if the air to their left will somehow give them the answer.

“I don’t know,” I hear over and over again.

Peer pressure. Societal pressure. Cultural demands. They all confront us with specific expectations. Most of us don’t even realize we are subjected to those subtle vices strapped tightly around our thumbs, those digits that are usually cradling a smartphone to help us gather more input than we could ever register.

How often do we ask ourselves: “What are we racing toward? Why are we checking our Facebook status — again? What is missing from my offline life that I need to get one online?”

I recently had a conversation about the differences between European and American expectations around vacation. In the Europe, it’s considered a human right. In the US, it’s considered an inconvenience. I even talked to one client who is getting married and is ‘dropping by the office’ on the way to his honeymoon. He is taking two weeks in Italy. But first, he’s going to check on that report.

Yikes.

I am all for personal responsibility, for giving our children a better life, and for doing an excellent job at work. But I also declare a new way of thinking about taking time off. That includes Friday night and weekends. A little bit can go a long way to keep us sane. Walking a balance beam requires skills, concentration and focus. But we need the strength to do that too.

How can we possibly remain strong when we never, ever let up?

 

The Legacy of Time

The years tumble by. On the eve of my daughter’s fifteenth birthday, I think about where I was then and where I am now. Children are the best measure of time. They show us that the cycle of life is never-ending.

Nothing is as gratifying as watching children grow. They open their eyes to a new world. And they open ours too.

Sure, we make mistakes. We learn. We laugh. We cry. We jump. We shout. We get it all out. Such is the content of our lives.

My mom’s best friend once told me that once you have a child, you forever wear your heart on your sleeve.

Nothing is truer than that.

Children keeps us honest, even when we don’t want to be. They are miracles – every one of them.

We were once children. Now we are grown. We get to pass along the lessons of our time here. If we accomplish that, we will have served our purpose.

Even for those of us who don’t have children of our own, we still role-model for the next generation in everything we do.

They are watching us. Every moment of every day.

If we keep our heads down and eyes latched to our smartphones, we might miss a lot. Including that first step from babyhood to childhood, from childhood to adulthood.

It comes faster than you think.

So unplug today. Connect in real time. With real people right in front of you.

After all, what legacy do you want to leave behind?

The Greatest Disappearing Act

Something happens when you have kids. The world sees you through different eyes. Or maybe we see ourselves with a specific pair of glasses that we willingly place upon our noses.

When my kids were little, I felt invisible. All eyes were on them as they were the cutest things ever. And I loved it. I fell comfortably into a role I enjoyed immensely. But then my kids started to grow up … and away from me. And suddenly I was left naked, standing in the middle of the room without that invisibility I had placed upon myself like a cloak.

I was no longer an apparition. And I had to take a good long look in the mirror to remember who I was.

Even if you don’t have children, you have certainly felt invisible before. Maybe you hid behind a job title, a role as brother, sister, friend. Perhaps you ran for cover by loading on more assignments in your civic life ~ all in the name of making meaning out of your days. But somewhere along the way you lost yourself. You spent a lot of time serving others’ needs. And it felt so right. For a while.

It isn’t easy to wake up out of a coma, especially if it’s been self-inflicted. We tend to numb ourselves with constant activity, never really wanting to stand in the buff while staring at that mirror for fear of what we will see.

But what really disappears when we finally decelerate is the frenzy that placed us far away from ourselves. We free up all that energy we expended trying to prove something to ourselves. We may not even know what we were trying to prove. That we were the best mothers ever? That we were okay if just baked enough cookies, said yes enough and smoothed ruffled feathers/egos/moods?

Today I am no longer invisible. I don’t know what the outside world sees, but that’s not important. For once in my life, I finally see myself.

 

 

Running on Empty

Serenity Stewart sang in her minivan. Occasionally, she’d step in front of a choir and do the same. But for years she hid her secret gift of song, in which she had been classically trained, just to get by.

With four children to raise on her own, she kept her creative self locked away while she did what she needed to do. Working as an office administrator for a busy health care practice, Serenity ran a tight ship, always looking after others.

But that creative self needed to live. It took Serenity’s nearly dying to breathe life back into it.

In July 2005 she suffered a brain aneurysm that left her bleeding out of her nose and even her eyes. As she lay on the cold ER table, her last view was of the gorgeous doctor with tan, tight arms scrubbing up for surgery.

“God, this can’t be my last vision,” she spoke to the sky. “Look at how beautiful this doctor is. I’ve got some unfinished business to do!” It was this sense of humor that got her through the next months of recovery. For the first time in her life, she started to strip away the layers of “mainstream” as she calls it to really live. In an act of self-discovery, she began to realize that an empty vase has the most potential.

“Every possibility starts with courage,” she told me over the phone. She took a year off and sailed around the world. She discovered her passion for deep sea fishing and even caught a marlin off the coast of San Diego. She literally emptied herself out to start anew.

Serenity now sings jazz reminiscent of the 1940s. Hers is sultry music that speaks of a long-lost era of community and togetherness. At the end of September she will start her P.S. I Love You tour, which will land her in Paris next March (yes, I’ll be going!).

Music helps her and her audience tune into the healing energy that only music can bring. It is a meditation, and a dedication, to life.

Listen to one of her songs today. You will be glad you did!

On What’s Most Important

Fame. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

I work with famous people on occasion when I’m on a film or TV set. And what I’ve observed is the pressure they endure on a daily basis, trying to uphold a standard that the public has set for them. It is tiring, taxing and at best, unnerving. Everyone has an opinion of you and if you aren’t in the best of moods, it somehow lands in the tabloids the next day.

My sister once said, “I’d like to be just left of the limelight. In the mix, but not in the public eye.”

I see what she means now.

The other day I had the chance to drink champagne with several celebrities, but after a day’s work in a dusty studio that smelled of manure and pyrotechnics, I was ready for a shower and some pizza with the kids instead. So I drove the hour home, racing through the door with a heightened level of excitement to see everyone again, only to find my family busy with their iPods, laptops and television sets.

Enter the feeling of let down. It’s what my friend Donald calls the moment of doom right before you enter your familiar space at home. You know it will be different than you hope it to be, but hope dies last, as they say.

It wasn’t until we had assembled at the dinner table an hour later that I realized why I had run home instead of sipping the bubbly with the stars. It was a moment of belly laughs and connection and jokes with the kids that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. It may have been slower in coming than I had wished, but the love was there all along beneath the distraction of our digital world.

Fame can’t give you that. Family can.

A Love Letter to Alanis

Every once in a while someone comes along to change your life in surprising ways. You don’t expect it. You don’t anticipate the vastness of their effect on your life. And then there it is ~ a newness you never thought possible.

Alanis Morissette is one of those people. And because I love her so much, in all her frailty and grace and honesty, I thought I’d pen a love letter just to say it to her too. So here goes.

Dear Alanis,

It may seem strange to receive a letter from someone you don’t know, but I’m sure you have had some practice. How did you jump inside my head, read my thoughts, then sing about it like that? You recorded seemingly every painful, joyful, messy, divine experience I have ever had. And you belted it out like you had experienced the same thing too.

I love you for your honesty. I love you for your courage. I love you for showing me your authentic self.

Your latest album Havoc and Bright Lights once again hit a nerve. At first I was a bit skeptical as your sound seems to have ripened with age. Maybe it was the years between this album and your prior one, Flavors of Entanglement, which I played until the CD gave up cough and wheezing into retirement (I burned a new one – totally legally of course!). Maybe it was motherhood, which is bound to change anyone, but your lyrics, once digested, are as profound and moving as all your other work. As a fellow writer, I am left astounded by your keen ability to squeeze multiple human experiences into tiny words.

Listening to your voice gives me the sense that all is right with the world, even as you sing of the things that are not.


There is another reason why I am writing you. You give me courage. You give me the feeling I can do anything. And while you sing, I think you are simultaneously listening to my reaction. It is as if you know how I feel. That is your art. That is your talent. That is the beauty of you.

You sing of empathy and how you appreciate that in others. You speak of the creative spirit in Magical Child that carries us forward. You recognize how powerful women are (and love them for it). You ask if we have found our own true North, that direction in life that keeps us centered and on task.

I’m not sure I have yet, but I am trying. With your help I may just get there yet.

With love,

Christine