Insight, part deux

28 Jan

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my friend having gained insight into a nagging issue. The comments I got made me re-think what I’d written and thinking that I wasn’t clear enough in getting across my point. The point was that when we get to the real reason something is bothering us and examine it, that bothersome thing often just goes away. It’s like magic, but of course, it really isn’t. It’s work that requires we get real honest with ourselves.

While I began the piece about the slightly negative reaction my friend had to her new daughters-in-law, that wasn’t meant to be the focus. It was about her realizing and allowing herself to feel her very human sense of loss. There were lots of comments suggesting that my friend should know that she has to let go of her sons. Several people quoted part of the poem by Kahlil Gibran: “Your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they do belong not to you.”

I actually had that read at my daughter’s naming ceremony when she was an infant. Clearly, I agree with the sentiment. I think my friend does too. Although, as parents, this is easier said than done.

Another, lesser known Gibran quote:

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

As you’ve probably noticed, I often write about the  importance of psychological and emotional intelligence. When my friend, a highly-trained psychotherapist,  said she felt light and free at her discovery, I was thrilled that she could now, was now, enjoying the addition to her family, instead of feeling resentful.

I thought it was a great idea for a post. It also led me to another idea for the following post about my first born.

I love getting your feedback! (I’d love it even more if you’d write your comments here instead of on Facebook because I could respond more directly to you and we could also have a more fluid community discussion.)

I hope you’ll keep reading and responding. I so appreciate you all.




13 Jan

I had a conversation with my friend who’s an esteemed psychologist. A Ph.D., she has a vibrant practice in Manhattan. She has several children, all sons. Two of them recently got married. She had a difficult time when the first one was engaged, often complaining about his then fiancé. Lots of little things about her annoyed my friend. At one point she even “spoke” to her son about the woman he’d chosen to marry, telling him that she thought he’d have to do more than his share of care taking in the relationship. The son assured his mother that he was completely aware of his fiancé’s gifts and flaws. This didn’t assuage my friend. She continued to worry that her son was making a huge mistake.

Her reaction to the second one was fine until after their marriage and she then began to complain even more about that son’s wife. The details of her complaints don’t matter. The point of the story is the issue she was complaining about wasn’t the problem at all.

At dinner yesterday with her husband, two of her sons and daughters-in-law, my friend, found herself having a wonderful time. Then a light bulb went off. She realized that her anger, anxiety and all her negative feelings weren’t about the women at all. It was about feeling as if she was losing her sons. As she looked around the table, feeling happy and full, she acknowledged that her daughters-in-law are, in fact, wonderful, accomplished women, who love their husbands, her sons.

Today, when my friend is recalling her aha moment of insight, I, who fancies myself an amateur shrink, reminded her that I’d pointed out this very thing to her almost a year ago. Initially she said, “I don’t remember that.”

I said, “I do” and pointed to the exact spot on our walk where I’d said it and, I reminded her, that she’d even teared up at the time.

“Mm hmm,” she said, “I remember now.” The point of this story isn’t about my being right, but about the power of insight. Now that my friend realizes what she was actually agitated about, she no longer is. It’s gone away, poof like magic.

Although it isn’t magic. It’s the result of work. The willingness to talk about our hurts and annoyances, to be raw and bare. Only when we’re willing to pick away the scab, will it fall off and begin to heal.


An Undefended Self

7 Nov

I just came back from a woman, a former nurse who does body work, alignment, skeletal restructuring, mechanical manipulation and some voodoo. A woman I’m friendly with in town, Jessica, who sees me regularly, slightly limping, in the park on my walk had recommended this nurse. My halt is slight and I don’t even notice it. It’s due to my lack of cartilage and the need (so I’ve been told by two orthopedic surgeons) of a hip replacement. When Jessica  recommended this woman the first time, I shut my brain off. I’ve tried lots of things: physical therapy, a muscular skeletal somebody. The chiropractor and acupuncturist do work for managing the pain. I’m essentially pain free.

Jessica texted me the nurse’s number. I ignored it. I saw Jessica a few weeks later, she mentioned the woman again. This time I grunted, which is my way of politely ignoring you.

The third time, Jessica was adamant. “Please call Elaine,” she said. “I promise you, you’ll feel better after the first time…I can’t really explain what she does, I just know that it works.”

I called Elaine and we spoke for 25 minutes. She said a few things that made sense about the physics of the body and how my hip pain was caused by a pulling from somewhere else in my body and also that my shoulder pain was related to the hip pain. My lungs were slightly compromised, my scar tissue and on. The knee bone is connected to the ankle bone…you know the song; get the picture.

She did a number of things pulling, pushing fascia, deep tissue massaging. She looked at my body from all angles.  The bad news I already knew, the mobility in my left leg is severely limited. The good news: my tissue is generally “like butter,” which according to Elaine is a very good, unusual thing.

Sounds like a metaphor, I say, looking up at her as I lay on the table. It is, she says.

Again, something that I already know. Emotionally,  I am not defended. This is a blessing and a curse.

As hard as this sometimes is–the easily getting wounded; the pressure it can put on friends who aren’t this way–I’m choosing to focus on this as a gift. A blessing.




When Our Kids Hurt

18 Sep

Welcome to My Breakdown

The other day I was  on my walk with a friend and we ran into another. The look on her face was stricken. After the three of us completed a couple of loops around the park, she told us that her son, a college student, was having a rough time socially.  After she left, the other friend said: “When I saw her face I thought someone had died.” My friend was in deep pain because her son was.  I know in my body what that feels like.

When they fall down, our instinct is to pick them up, kiss the boo boo and make everything all right. We do this when they’re little, at college age, it’s just not so easy. Often it’s not even possible.

There are things that happen in your child’s life that you can’t fix.

A few weeks ago, toward the end of summer I came…

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When Our Kids Hurt

16 Sep

The other day I was  on my walk with a friend and we ran into another. The look on her face was stricken. After the three of us completed a couple of loops around the park, she told us that her son, a college student, was having a rough time socially.  After she left, the other friend said: “When I saw her face I thought someone had died.” My friend was in deep pain because her son was.  I know in my body what that feels like.

When they fall down, our instinct is to pick them up, kiss the boo boo and make everything all right. We do this when they’re little, at college age, it’s just not so easy. Often it’s not even possible.

There are things that happen in your child’s life that you can’t fix.

A few weeks ago, toward the end of summer I came home and found Cliff and Baldwin having just finished dinner together.  They were laughing, teasing me about something, but I could look at her face and tell something was wrong. Had she been crying? Cliff recounted what they  had been talking about.  He had been telling her how proud he was of her because she had just ended a successful internship at the fashion website Pixie Market, where she did all their social media and a little modeling. She had just begun another internship with Prabal Gurung–a well-known fashion designer–where she’s doing all the grunt work most interns are expected to do, but getting a great inside look at the not-so glamorous fashion world.  Cliff was pointing out how all these things–and going to Paris for her junior year–are setting her up for the kind of career she wants to have. All good things right?

When he finished enumerating her accomplishments, she broke down in tears. Cliff was alarmed and tried to figure out what he’d said to upset her. She said that she just wanted to be able to share all this with her boyfriend, except that he wasn’t her boyfriend anymore. She said she missed her love.

It had been torture seeing her torn up by the breakup and not being able to do anything to make it better. All I could do was listen, hold her and let her know that the hurt will pass. Meanwhile, I was torn up inside and needed someone to rub my back, tell me it’d be okay and that this will pass.

She’s back at school now and busy with all that she has going on and says her work has been the best thing–she’s still sad, but distracted and moving on with her life.

Even though I know that we can’t fix everything for them and we shouldn’t, the impulse doesn’t go away. I know that we only cripple them when we do. Helping them learn to make their own decisions–which will not always be good ones–is a big part, a hard part, of being a parent.

I haven’t written much all summer. I wrote one blog, because my brain has been clogged by my emotions and duty. Helping Ford to navigate being 13, his last year of middle school and all the sociological stuff that adolescents go through; then add-on to that the Black boy factor and our anxiety about his safety. For the first time he’s playing on a baseball team where Cliff is not one of the coaches and he’s playing with all new kids. He’s been with some of same ones since he was six. Cliff has always been either the main coach or an assistant because he wanted to make sure Ford gets to play at prime positions and is treated well. I tell him to let Ford be coached by someone who isn’t his dad or by someone connected to him. They have to learn to deal with unfairness. In the long run this will make him stronger.

We spent a great restful Labor Day weekend in the Berkshires with our friends John and Hillary. She and I were driving to the market and were talking about the emotional ties we have to our children. (She also has two boys in college, whom I’ve known since pre-school.)

She said: “I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s because we carry them in our bodies and maybe they leave little cells behind, inside of us.”

Those “cells” are perhaps what compels us to get in the car and drive an hour or four or six when we get that teary phone call that says I’m hurting.

I hate it. I know it comes with the territory.

All I can do is be present, listen, advise when I’m asked or when I think its necessary to step in. My hope is that they develop resilience. Resilience is the key. I’m already seeing it in Baldwin and I’m unbelievably grateful.  Ford’s not there yet, but I’m hopeful.

We’re working with him and I’m working on me.


Ah Summer and the Surly Stage

14 Jul

So we’re in the middle of summer and I’m encountering people who appear to be walking around like it’s Happy Hour, half drunk on the fact that It’s Summer.  “It’s summer,” means to many that it’s time to relax: Drink more, hang out more, chill more. It’s a great concept and I wish that I was doing it and doing so near a beach for a month (a week, a day), but I’m working. I’m a chauffeur.

My 13-year-old, unfortunately, isn’t old enough to drive so here’s how my day looks: Get him to academic camp by 9 where he works on language arts and math till 11:15 then I pick him up and drop him off at 11:30, to a neighboring town, for sports camp where he stays until it’s over at 2:30. Then there’s summer league baseball. He usually has to show up for those games at 5. Last week he had four games in one week. This is my July. I’m trying hard not to be bitter, not to complain, to enjoy these years which I know are fleeting. I’m sure some of my friends are right when they say, “You’ll miss these days,” but given that he’s an adolescent, I’m highly doubtful that I’m going to miss the surly grunts and the complete silence I get from him. The one word answers to my questions are now just as often replaced by grunts. It’s not just a yes or a no, it’s a barely audible sound that means, “I don’t want to answer you.” Five minutes ago, really six months ago, my Ford was sweet and loving. He still wanted me to lay down with him and tell him one of my made up stories. He would watch a movie with us. I could even get him to go to lunch with me–even if he did want to leave as soon as he’d wolfed down his burger, which was usually in 15 minutes. Just when I was feeling sorry for myself and considered running him over when I dropped him off this morning (okay I didn’t actually want to do that but I did imagine, for a moment, that if we hadn’t had him my summer would be free) I came across this article about the push and pull of adolescence.

My take away: they will push you away, they’ll say mean things, but they’ll have moments when they will hug you or sit next to you or as just happen, hold your hand (wow)! The article said that as much as you may want to turn away to protect your feelings from the meanness coming from them, you gotta hang in there because you’re still their safe place to fall and every now and then you’ll get a glimpse of sweetness (or at least non-surliness).

So I’m going to keep driving, hoping that maybe a conversation consisting of more than oomph will happen. I’m going to keep sitting in the stands in 90 degree weather to watch him play baseball games, hoping he feels all the love and support I bring along with me. IMG_0627 In January, with sister, at the start of the surly stage. IMG_1662 A moment of grace in June–he’s actually asking me for his phone–but I was happy to have it


27 Jun

My backyard was the first thing I fell in love with in my house 15 years ago. Read my piece on downsizing in the attached link…there’s a mistake in the Dame piece. My town, Montclair has 36,00 residents, not 6,000.IMG_2006Here’s the piece I wrote for an on-line magazine, Dame.

B. Smith

18 Jun

The news that B. Smith has Alzheimer’s disease has hit me and a lot of folks really hard. I saw the segment on Sunday Morning last week and broke down in audible sobs. The sight of the once gracious, warm, always put together B not knowing the day, date or year just broke my heart.

In the 80s Continue reading

The Wedding, The Marriage and Weather

13 Jun

So today is our wedding anniversary. On June 13, 22 years ago, it was a perfect spring day–cerulean sky, high 70s, impeccable air pressure. The wedding was outside.  The reception was inside and the food and drinks were sublime and abundant. All during the planning, my usually optimistic mother keep asking:”What if it rains?” My response: “It’s not going to.”

I don’t know why I was so sure about the weather forecast, I just was.



Has our marriage been like that perfect day in spring, of course not, but weather is a metaphor for marriage as it is for everything in life; we’ve had good periods and bad ones. We’ve had stretches of the in-between.

What I’ve learned about marriage, as in life, is that everything changes. For hours this morning it poured a chilly rain. My dog was so wet from our ritual morning walk, that when I picked him up to get him to leave the park (for some weird reason he didn’t want to) his hair felt like a used sponge. By noon the sun had come out and now it’s a humid almost 80 degrees.

When we got married, our parents had been married for a combined total of 75 years. Cliff’s best man Darryl had interviewed them and included their words in his amazing toast–okay it was a speech. One of the things he said was that given our familial history, a stable income, a solid American-African ancestry, we had all the ingredients to have a successful marriage. People loved Darryl’s speech. We loved Darryl’s speech, but as I now know, you can have all those ingredients and more and the marriage can still crumble.  Luck and fortitude can tip the odds.


One of the things that made me feel that we could make it was we could always talk to each other and Cliff could always make me laugh. I tend to take things seriously and pretty much nothing is serious to Cliff. Sometimes that works, sometimes we drive each other crazy.

It’s now the height of wedding season and I know people go crazy planning. I say focus on the marriage, not the wedding. The wedding is a party, it’s the easy part. The marriage is everything after. Two other suggestions: focus on your partner’s strengths. What has worked for us and I highly recommend: laugh.

Happy Anniversary Sweetie

A Mother’s Love or obsession

11 May

My daughter  Baldwin is on her way over for a Mother’s Day visit. I took a shower, put on something other than jeans and put on a little makeup. We don’t have any plans to go anywhere special, we might just stay home, but I’m excited to see her and want to look nice. I’m always excited to see her. I enjoy her company and having her in the house completes our family. She adds life to the house.

About a month ago my friend Eleanore asked me what I was doing on a Saturday night. I told her what Baldwin was doing. Eleanore said, “And what are you doing?” I hadn’t realized that I had not answered her question.

Often I have conversations with mothers where long minutes are spent revealing the life details of their grown or almost grown children. I have been guilty of this too, although I try hard not to be and I always ask after other peoples’ children. News flash mothers: when someone asks about you and yours you should always return the question.

I’ve tried to balance having a life that is not consumed by my children. I work at thinking, planning what my husband and I will do with ourselves once they are grown and completely gone (my girl is almost there). I don’t want to make my kids feel guilty about visiting me. Even this Mother’s Day, when Baldwin is at college and only a short train, subway and bus ride away, I resisted pressing her about when she was arriving home. I want my kids to want to spend time with me and I want them to have a life with friends. I know that this attitude with be challenged as they move farther away.  Ford had a baseball game this morning. When he’s in college, who knows what kind of plans could prevent him from seeing me on the Hallmark holidays.

Having close girlfriends as I do, I like to think, keeps me from veering into the obsessive about my kids category. When your desire to see them, trumps theirs, there’s a problem; but there is a thin line between upholding some family togetherness, which sometimes can get lost with a gentle reminder that mom and dad are over here.

I hear Baldwin’s voice. She just got home…

Happy Mother’s Day