Peace be with you

“Peace be with you.” These are words I have spoken countless times over many years – only on Sundays around 11 a.m., of course – but it wasn’t until very recently that I began to reflect upon what that phrase means.

The new pastor of our church wrote a greeting in our monthly newsletter suggesting we add something to our daily practices during the season of Lent, rather than taking something away. Her bulleted list included many activities that would be easy for families to do together, so my children and I considered the ideas and voted to share the peace every day in our own home.

I wrote “Peace be with you” on an index card with a black Sharpie and taped it to our alarm clock so that we wouldn’t forget this new daily ritual. Each night before bed, I look my boys in the eye, hold their faces, and say “Peace be with you” and smile as I hear them say it back to me. Then they face each other and do the same. This is the most touching part, because how often really would you see two boys, brothers no less, offering each other peace and hugging?

Sometimes at church, the passing of the peace seems rushed and devoid of meaning. It’s a race to shake the hands of everyone in the pews ahead of and behind us, and I’m often wondering, “Do my hands feel cold?” “Am I smiling enough?” “Did I already shake her hand?”

At the same time, this is one of my favorite parts of our Sunday church service. I would feel funny in my daily life to go about wishing peace to people, but it’s totally normal and expected at church. I’m already considered kind of out-there for being a vegan; I don’t need “hippie” added to my labels. But if I could wish my fellow humans anything in this world, it would be peace – peace within and peace without, a sense of being loved and comforted and blessed that fills each person until it overflows and radiates outward and lights up all of humankind so that we can trust each other and wish each other well.

Expressions of peace are common to many religions – they are the heart, really, of our relationship with whatever form of God we believe in – but even those without religious affiliation can appreciate peace. I’m hoping to work up the nerve to sometimes say “Peace be with you” rather than “What’s up” or even “Have a great day” to those I meet in my daily travels. And I vow to really mean it when I say those words each night to my sons, and to all of the people I greet and shake hands with on Sunday mornings.

 

Photo credit: stock photo by markuso at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away. Divorced mom Adrienne gets pregnant after fooling around with a lonely mortician. He wants to marry her and raise the baby together, but she has other ideas. 

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Be careful, your mood is contagious

You know the phrase, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It might be a southern saying, but it’s just as true in my northeastern home.

I’m in the midst of reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, in which she at first struggles to justify why a happily married mother needs to take the time to seek out happiness for herself. Her conclusion is that her own happiness is not a selfish luxury, but a necessity to bring joy to her whole household.

I agree. I notice that on the days where I am short-tempered and impatient, my kids react by looking glum, shuffling their feet to get out the door, and sometimes even snapping back at me. I hate to think of them traipsing off to school this way. On the mornings where I wake them with kisses and songs, we all manage to leave the house on time with smiles on our faces.

When I bring positive energy into my classroom, it comes back to me with students who answer questions and don’t moan and groan over assignments. I connect with my coworkers when I smile and look them in the eye rather than mumbling hi and walking on by. In my personal relationships, my loved ones seek me out to talk and spend time with me when I show enthusiasm and joy.

Every interaction with another person is an exchange of energy. Pain and sorrow is meant to be shared, and we need others to boost us up when we can’t pull ourselves out of a bad situation. Sometimes it’s hard to smile when I’m angry, feeling let down, tired, or otherwise hurting, but those are the days it’s most important of all to smile.

Try putting aside your everyday grumbles and notice how differently people respond to you when you tell them you’re great (even if you’re just okay). You may bring a smile to their face and they may bring one back to yours.

 

Photo credit: stock photo by tigger11th at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away. Divorced mom Adrienne gets pregnant after fooling around with a lonely mortician. He wants to marry her and raise the baby together, but she has other ideas. 

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Amazon |  Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks |

Kobo Books | BAM | IndieBound | Powell’s

 

 

 

 

It’s okay to relax sometimes! (I keep telling myself)

I can feel the sludge building up in my brain – too much to remember, to-do lists piling up on scraps of paper along with all the reminders in my phone. I start feeling overwhelmed, and rather than getting more productive with more to do, I get less productive because I don’t know what to do first.

I’m learning, slowly, that when I start to feel this way, following my body’s instinct to slow down makes sense. I’m used to telling myself I’m lazy if I’m not productive. I feel proud when I have a day that I keep busy all day without wasting time, but it’s an impossible standard to meet every day, or even most days.

If you look up “wasting time,” you’ll find numerous articles that extol the benefits of downtime for increasing creativity and productivity, qualities we’d all like more of. I notice that my days go better when I have a novel or a favorite show to look forward to at the end of the day. Those few minutes of escaping from the churning in my own head refreshes me. I spend all day handling and managing information, coming home to deal with more of it, and by the time I go to bed, my head is spinning.

The constant busy-ness affects my kids too. Sometimes my older son says, “It takes me forever to fall asleep because there’s so much I’m thinking about and I feel like I’m forgetting something I’m supposed to be doing.” This makes me feel bad, because although it may be good preparation for adulthood, this is not what it should be like to be a kid.

Not only that, but I feel so grateful to have the option to relax. I think about men, women, and children all over the world who spend their waking hours working to provide enough food for their families. I am extremely fortunate to have the luxury of time that I can use as I please.

Lately, I’ve been longing to find ways to unwind without feeling guilty. One goal of mine is to return Sundays to a day of rest, rather than a day to finish household chores. Last Sunday, it was sledding. As my boys and I were bundling up, I was thinking of all the stuff I could be getting done while they were out of the house. I was sort of grumbling to myself that I didn’t have time to have fun. But when we started racing down the hill, I remembered what it’s like to let go of everything and be in the moment. I am so glad I went with them. How many more times will my boys want me to go sledding with them? How many more years will my body be able to take the abuse of falling off a sled and rolling down a hill? I’d much rather have memories like these than looking back on these years as ones in which I completed all of my self-assigned tasks.

I’m hoping that Sundays will carry over to weekdays as well…that a few hours of playing and putting the to-do lists aside will make me more focused and less resentful when there is work to be done. I started by building a fire in my fireplace and taking the time to watch the flames and listen to the crackling wood. Instead of sorting papers or folding laundry, I just sat and enjoyed the fire.

Cheers to you and I having fun this weekend!

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices.

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We are not a broken family

I have been heading a single-parent family for nearly six years now. I am a teacher, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in meetings and conferences while others lamented the fact that we have to deal with “broken families.” I think it’s a hurtful phrase and one that I’ve had to work hard to overcome. My family is not broken. While maintaining our family’s privacy, I will just say divorce was not a decision that was taken lightly.

My ex-husband and I have made many compromises and more importantly, made peace with each other, in order to be the best co-parents possible for our kids. Yes, there are differences in our parenting styles, but we discuss all major decisions and are in general agreement on the important things. We face the same issues we would have been dealing with if we were still married.

Just because a children’s parents are divorced, it doesn’t have necessarily mean the family is broken. Broken to me means deficient in a way that is beyond repair. We may not have two parents living together in the same house, but I still consider my ex and his family my family and I always will.

We are bound together for the rest of our lives by our two children, and I want to make the best of it. I am happy that it’s not awkward or painful to sit together at recitals or meet up to go trick-or-treating. We will not have to sit in separate rows when our children graduate or get married.

Although it’s a sad statement about our society that the divorce rate is so high, the most practical way to help children is to give them a sense of family no matter what its makeup. I support the institution of marriage. When it works, it’s a beautiful partnership. But there are other types of families that work too. We may not look like the Pajamagram picture above, but we’re still a whole, beautiful family!

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices.

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Amazon |  Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks |

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Why clinging to the past (or the future) makes you suffer

Being a parent forces you to constantly be aware of the passage of time. Your life runs to the rhythm of school years and holidays and sports seasons and annual checkups. Parents feel it, and kids feel it too. I don’t know how many times my kids have said they can’t wait for this day or that trip or alternately, that they don’t want summer to be over or to grow up too fast.

If you haven’t seen this video about the girl who doesn’t want her baby brother to grow up because he’s just sooo cute, it hits you in two layers. The first is how adorable she is (and she’s right about her baby brother). But there’s also a deeper undercurrent of the pain we share with her of wanting to stop time.

I recently read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Tolle explains the difference between clock time and psychological time. Clock time is what you use to function day to day, to get places on time and do what you need to do. Psychological time is the attachment you feel to the past or the future, anything that is pulling you away from the moment you are in right now. Psychological time can bring suffering because you are either comparing now to the past and finding it lacking, or you feel that you need something in the future to make you happier.

The girl who doesn’t want her baby brother to grow up was experiencing the pain of living on psychological time. I see it in my own life as well. I am flooded with old emails that I don’t want to get rid of in case there’s an important memory I’ll lose. I sometimes feel sad when I look at family pictures, even though they are from happy events, because I long to relive them or to be younger (or especially to see my kids be younger again).

When we hold on to the past like this, we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to fully experience the present. By lamenting about how short the summer seems or how quickly a vacation passes, you are robbing the event of its enjoyment by anticipating its end. If you are a planner like I am, you might spend a lot of your present time with your thoughts on the future. People say I’m “organized,” or but it’s really a form of anxiety about things that haven’t happened yet.

Since reading Tolle’s book and watching Sadie cry over her baby brother, I am trying to keep re-centering myself in the present moment, to stop dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. I hope that my kids see a difference in my attentiveness toward them and that they too practice living in the now.

As Oogway says to Po in Kung Fu Panda, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

If you like reading about families, please check out my novel, Giving Myself Away.

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I hope my kids will always be able to look up to me

“Mommy, I don’t want to grow taller than you. I always want to be able to look up to you,” my tween son told me last night. I’m sure he meant that literally, but I couldn’t help but take the message as a figurative one. Can I be a mom who will always be worth looking up to?

I give a lot of thought to what I can pass on to my children because I realize that I have limited time left in which their parents will be the central figures of their lives. Soon their friends will matter more, followed by girlfriends and wives. I can only hope that the seeds of what I’ve tried to plant in their hearts will take root and bloom.

These are the ways I hope to be a mother worth looking up to:

  1. Faith: My faith brings me comfort in this modern “I need proof” and “I need answers now” world. No matter what your belief system, just the thought that there’s something out there larger than ourselves that there’s a plan for us (though we may not understand it yet), eases the pressure to feel like I need to know it all. This leads me to

 

  1. Humility: Our privacy has been replaced by the overwhelming popularity contest of social media. For many of us, our jobs depend on what others think of us and how many people know and care that we exist. To be humble today takes an extra measure of self-control. Of course I hope you read this and enjoy it and comment on it and share it, but whether you do or not, does that have bearing on my worth as an individual? I need to say what I believe and live my live according to my principles, which leads me to

 

  1. Openness: I never want to offend anyone and I can see multiple points of view on just about any issue. I tend to be a private person as well, but two years ago, I adopted a “theme” for myself of Put Yourself Out There. This simple statement brought about so many wonderful changes in my personal and professional life that I became determined to stop hiding. Kids (especially firstborns) try hard to please adults, a habit I never fully outgrew, but now I accept that not everyone will like what I say, and that’s okay. My desire to respectfully be who I am leads me to

 

  1. Kindness: The comedian Louis CK in one of his hilarious skits pointed out the fact that even the most mild-mannered people can turn aggressive in their cars. I have been known to utter “What are you, an idiot?” (and much worse) while driving. I’ve had uncharitable thoughts about other people that I wouldn’t say out loud, but my goal is to not even think them. It is so easy to get caught up in our own egos that we forget the struggles and fears and tragedies that have molded the people around us. And going back to the principles of faith and humility, who am I to judge? My desire to believe in the innate goodness of people leads to

 

  1. Optimism: There are two ways you can go through life: believing that humankind is selfish and inherently evil, or that people (for the most part) do their best with the resources they have to be cooperative and generous. The filter you choose is the one through which you will measure everything that happens to you, both good and bad. The good things will seem less good because you’ll attribute them to chance, while the bad things will seem predestined, part of life’s agenda of screwing you over. Like everyone else who exists, I’ve had some really good parts of my life and some really bad ones too. It’s a decision I make every day, but I choose to believe the universe is fundamentally good.

There are so many things I could wish for my children: that they find good partners, do well in school, have fulfilling and well-paid careers, and become good parents themselves. But instead of wishing they become certain things that may or may not happen, I will try to nurture who they are right at this moment. I hope that regardless of height, they see my path as one worth taking.

 

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When did you bond with your baby?

My brother and sister-in-law recently welcomed their first baby into the world. I am so excited for them and can’t wait to hold my niece and see the people I love in their new role as parents. Part of me envies the wonder and joy of becoming a first-time parent, while the other part thinks whew, glad I don’t have to go through that again!

Naturally, a birth in the family causes people to reminisce about their own baby stories. I have two sons, but because of circumstances surrounding their births, the bonding process felt instant and natural with my first child, but came much later with the second.

I had a healthy first pregnancy and delivery, and when my older son was born, he spent the entire hospital visit in the room with us. I don’t think he spent a minute in the nursery. He took to breastfeeding immediately and seemed very content from the get-go. I wasn’t nervous during my pregnancy because I felt no reason to be. Other than the typical fatigue and weepiness a new mom faces, becoming a parent was a natural transition.

Halfway through my second pregnancy, I found out I had a rare condition that could cause me to suddenly hemorrhage and bleed to death. Needless to say, this put a damper on the normal joy of pregnancy. I was fortunate to have skilled medical care and a safe delivery, but nevertheless, my second son was born premature at 35 weeks. He didn’t yet have a sucking reflex and his blood sugar dropped easily, so he spent his first two weeks with a feeding tube in the NICU. We could only see him by showing identification and passing through locked doors, then scrubbing up as though preparing for a medical procedure. I couldn’t nurse him. And when I was discharged from the hospital, I had to go home, an hour away from where he was. I didn’t even see him until the day after he was born.

He did not have formula because I was able to pump milk for him, but even when he came home from the hospital, he was only taking milk from a bottle. It left me in the frustrating position of having to get up in the middle of the night to use a breast pump and then feed him with a bottle. I was agitated, he was agitated, and it took us a while to get in sync. To me, breastfeeding was one of the easiest ways to feel bonded to my babies, so I was relieved when, a month later, he finally got the hang of it.

I think the major bonding experience for me and my younger son did not come until last year, when he was seven years old and spent three days in the hospital for a severe asthma attack. He endured needle sticks day and night, all kinds of pulmonary testing and chest x-rays, and an entire night in the ER. It was just the two of us (and many medical personnel) for three days together in the ambulance, the ER, and a hospital room. I gained so much pride and appreciation to see how my son handled himself under duress. I will never know how he felt in the hospital as a newborn because obviously he couldn’t tell me then and he doesn’t remember it now. His more recent hospital stay felt like our better-late-than-never bonding experience because I was fully focused on nothing but him and we spent the days and nights together that we should have shared when he was first born.

In my first novel, Giving Myself Away, my main character, Adrienne, who is already a mom, faces the heartbreaking decision of whether to give up her third baby for adoption. I incorporated some of my birth story into hers, but it was fascinating for me to explore this dilemma in writing because it’s an experience I could never imagine going through myself.

At a writers’ conference this past spring, I met a woman who found herself exactly in this situation and her story was amazing. If you are willing to share, what was the moment you felt bonded to your baby? I’d love to hear it (and it might inspire a story for a future novel!).

 

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Photo: A moment of bonding with my little guy while he was in the NICU.