Living With a New Truth

In our home we celebrate Christmas. For many years I struggled with the “Santa” tradition. A part of me enjoyed that my kids believed in Santa and all the magic that came along with it. But another part of me didn’t want to lie to them. I had no problem finding out the truth about Christmas when I was young, but a friend of mine was deeply scarred by it and it took a long time for her to trust her parents again. She vowed to never mislead her future children. I wondered what it would look like when my kids found out. Not only did they believe in Santa, but they also believed the magical Elf on the Shelf moves around the house and travels to the North Pole every evening. 

Would they feel betrayed? Would they stop trusting us? Will they be devastated? 

Nonetheless I played along, postponing the inevitable. Until January of this year. We were attending my oldest son’s developmental workshop in the University of Miami. (Click here if you haven’t read that inspiring series) 

 Justin, my middle child who had just turned seven, told me he needed to speak to me in private. 

We went off to the side, and I knelt down to meet my son at eye level. 

“Mommy” he looked away. “I don’t think I believe in Santa or God.”  My heart stopped. I wasn’t prepared to have this conversation. I needed to buy some time. 

“What does your heart tell you, Justy?” 

“My heart tells me to believe Mommy, but my brain is interfering with my heart.”  Stay calm, Caro, I told myself. We were in the middle of an event and I didn’t want to have this conversation without my husband there. But I knew it was time to tell Justin the truth. 

“Justy, we’ll talk about this today but we need to wait until we get home so we can speak in private. Is that okay?” 

Justin nodded. 

“I don’t want you to talk to your brothers about this, either. This is between you, mommy and daddy.” 

“Okay mommy.” 

I kissed his cheek and stroked his sweet, innocent face. I almost cried. 

I found Orlando in the crowd and told him what had happened. “We have to tell him tonight,” I said. Orlando agreed. 

Justin, true to his promise, didn’t mention anything for the rest of the evening. When we finally arrived home, we put the other boys to bed. Justin, his dad and I locked ourselves in my bedroom and sat on the bed. 

We had a beautiful conversation about Santa and the elves. We told Justin that now that he knew the truth, he had become one of Santa’s helpers, and it was his job to pass the magic on to his brothers who still believed. We explained the difference between Santa and God and our thoughts on both. (I will not share the God conversation in this post for brevity, but if you are interested in knowing what that conversation looked like, let me know in the comments and I will write a separate blog about it.)

In August of this year, Orly started a new school. Because he was entering the fourth grade, we were afraid that the kids in the new school would spoil Christmas for him and we wanted him to hear the news from us, not anyone else. So a few days before his first day of school, we sat down with him and had the same conversation we’d had in January with Justin. Orly was dumbfounded. Unlike his brother, he was unsuspecting. What hurt him the most was discovering that the elf wasn’t real. He loved his elf. It had become his friend, and he trusted it. He was crushed to learn that it wasn’t magical.  I wondered if we had made the right decision in creating this fantasy for our kids only to shatter their reality later. 

On Thanksgiving morning, I was busy preparing for our dinner when Orly called me over to his room. “Mom!” He whispered. “Where are the elves?” 

“Oh, Um, they’re put away.” I had forgotten that the elves arrive on Thanksgiving Day. 

“Well, you need to go get them mom. Ryan will be waiting for them!” 

I sneaked over to their secret hiding spot, took them out of the box and handed them to my son. Orly called out for Justin and together they ran off to conspire on what they would do with the elves to surprise their baby brother. A new season had begun in our home. 

For weeks I’ve seen the big brothers create the same magical experience for their little brother as we created for them. They’ve been intentional about the words they use and the actions they take. Orly has been particularly mindful about helping me with the elves. I am amazed at how fun it’s been to team up with my kids this year.  

I was talking with Justin the other day and I asked him how he felt about all that had happened. 

Justin shrugged his shoulders as he confessed,  “At first I felt a little betrayed that you guys had lied. But mom, now that I’ve seen the look on Ryan’s face when he wakes up to those elves, I understand why you did it for us.” 

“Are you enjoying the year as much now that you’re in the know?” I asked. 

“I’m actually enjoying it even more!” He smiled. 

It still pains Orly that his elf isn’t what he thought he was. But even so I’ve been so proud of how gracefully he’s behaved. His disappointment has not affected the excitement he’s had in making this time special for his little brother. He found a new way to experience the joy of Christmas. 

I no longer question whether what we did was right or wrong. I realized that because my boys lived the magic, they can now create that magic for someone else. 

The magical moments they experienced growing up were very much real to them in the moment. And that is how we should all live, isn’t it? In the moment.  Change doesn’t take away the experience, it creates the space for new experiences. We may believe something to be true for us today that isn’t true for us tomorrow. That’s okay. It’s part of our journey. We evolve, we learn, and we adapt to our new reality. If you look back, you‘ll realize that each experience and every belief is training you for what’s coming next in your life. It will help you lead others and serve others in a new capacity. It stops being about you, and it becomes about them. I learned this lesson as a parent, and my boys learned it as big brothers. No matter how many things change, we can find the beauty, the joy, and the magic in the next stage of our journey. Life is all about how you choose to look at it. It can be wonderful, even if it’s different from what you once knew. 

A Moment of Clarity

 First you live the magic, then you create it. 

The Middle Years

Our family celebrated my husband’s grandparents’ 65th wedding anniversary. Their daughters honored them with a ceremony and reception, surrounded by all of their family and friends, to fulfill their dream of getting married by the church. After sixty-five years of civil union, our grandparents stood at the altar choosing to love each other and take care of each other once again. 

Witnessing a happy old couple holding hands, giving each other a tender kiss or renewing their vows after many years of marriage is inspiring. A sign of lives well lived and two people who, together, have made it to the top of the mountain—encouraging those that follow behind them that they too can enjoy a long-lasting, meaningful relationship. 

A new marriage is also emotive. It’s beautiful to see two people who found each other and committed to building their life together. As we celebrate their nuptials, we hope that they will become the happy old couple at the top of the mountain.

These are the picture-perfect moments; the Hallmark cards of life, representing all that is good and beautiful. 

But what must the newly married do to become the happy old couple? They must endure the middle years!

As we admire old couples or encourage young ones, we gloss over the middle years—the period of raising children, pursuing careers, and trying to make ends meet while saving for retirement. Couples struggle with finding their way as a unit while preserving their identity as an individual. We grow tired of each other or our marriages become stale, giving rise to disillusion or infidelity. We get wrapped up in commitments, financial pressures, and demands of daily life. Our dreams and goals often get set aside to push our children‘s futures forward. 

It’s such a chaotic time that eventually it blends together in our memories. It‘s easy during this time for couples to stop looking at each other lovingly, holding hands or giving each other tender kisses. Getting lost in the middle years makes it difficult for the marriage to survive, not to mention that illness or death can strip couples from enjoying their relationship into old age. Like everything in life, it takes a certain level of luck and a lot of good choices during those middle years to reach the top of the marital mountain. 

That is why celebrating a 65th wedding anniversary is so meaningful. The old couple survived the middle years and lived to tell the tale. 

I once wrote an open letter to a newly married couple sharing five principles to help them along their journey. What I was offering them were the tools to overcome the challenges of the middle years. They are simple suggestions but that doesn‘t mean they‘re easy. If you are a newly married couple or wrapped up in the in-between, I encourage you to read that post by clicking here. 

With only twelve years under our belts, my husband and I are in the midst of the middle years, working together to climb our mountain. In the past I’ve written about choices we’ve made as a couple and rough patches we’ve encountered in our marriage. We’ve navigated through changes in our career and employment, the illness and death of a parent, and many other struggles that we’ve confronted along the way. But we’ve done our part to enjoy the journey, sort though the mess, and never stop holding hands. So far, our imperfectly perfect marriage is going strong. 

True commitment, good choices, and a little luck can produce magnificent results in marriage and in life. 

Watching the joy in our grandparents’ faces as they shared their special day with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren was priceless. A true success story, worthy of emulating.  As my husband, three kids and I stood by our grandparents’ side, I prayed that that would be us one day. 

A Moment of Clarity

No matter how special it is to witness a new couple tie the knot or an old couple renew their vows, never forget success happens in the middle years. 

‘Tis the Season of Overwhelm

I envision the holiday season as a dreamy and peaceful time where I get to make gingerbread houses and bake cookies with my boys, watch Christmas movies in our matching holiday pajamas and ride bike around the park. 

But as soon as December hits, real life quickly sets in with massive traffic congestion, promotional email overload, and trying to tie loose ends before we wrap up the year. Add to that, massive shopping, constant holiday parties, and keeping up with what to bring on what day to my kids’ schools. Meanwhile, as I’m trying to keep my head above water, every blog post, commercial and podcast is reminding me to be mindful, present, and in the true spirit of the holidays. The only spirit I’m in is the one of exhaustion. 

Sound familiar? 

This December crept up on me. I was supposed to have my book finished by now, but I’m still working on the final edits. Two of my sons are performing in plays in theaters on opposite ends of town. What were we thinking?

Between drop offs and pick-ups, school, work, lunches, homework, Iready, sending out Christmas cards, buying gifts and remembering to move the elves every night, I’m hanging on by a thread! 

I’m pretty sure the holidays aren’t supposed to be this stressful, but the consensus from everyone I talk to is that we’re all feeling overwhelmed.  But I’ve come to a conclusion: this is totally our fault. 

I’m not saying we don’t have a lot on our plates, or that the stress isn’t real. But the reason we feel overwhelmed isn’t because of what we have to do, it’s because of the value we attach to all that we have to do.  

We place so much importance on our to-do list and don‘t realize that in the scheme of things, much of our pressure is self-imposed and insignificant. We worry that others will judge us or that not doing something makes us a failed parent, spouse, employee, boss, or person. That stress steals the joy out of the things we actually want to do. 

And the craziest part about it is that despite the chaos, it’s over before we know it. Soon we’ll long for that time again with the same romantic goggles we had before it started! A friend of mine said the other day, “It’s hard but I’m sure I’m living the best years of my life.”  I don’t want to miss “living” the best years of my life because I’m stressing to-do items I’ve overvalued. 

So here’s the deal. Things will never be perfect. My blog this week was a day late, my book won’t be released until after January, and by the year-end I’ll still have loose ends I didn’t resolve.  I choose whether to beat myself up for the things I haven’t done, or honor the things I have accomplished. 

There is always a choice in how you look at things. 

So if you’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, take a hard look at how much value you’re putting on all the miscellaneous things you’ve added to your plate. Are they to-dos you want to do or have to do? Do they all need to get done? What would life look like if you didn’t do them? Would it matter a year from now? How about 10 years from now? If this were your last holiday season ever, how would you spend it? 

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll know what things to put the most value on during this December. And for the rest of it, cut yourself some slack. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s good enough.

A Moment of Clarity

The reason we feel overwhelmed isn’t because of what we have to do, it’s because of the value we attach to all that we have to do.

An Extra Seat at the Table

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, we are all getting ready for the biggest feast of the year.  You might be following your timeline to ensure your turkey defrosts on time, or searching through Pinterest boards for those last-minute table decorations. All the planning and prepping to make sure everything comes out just right can be overwhelming.  It‘s easy to lose sight of what really matters — that this is a time of togetherness, sharing, and giving thanks. 

Several years ago we hosted Thanksgiving at our townhouse. There were twenty people on our guest list, which was about as much as our limited space could handle. On that Thursday, we were busy cleaning and decorating our home. Orlando had brined the turkey for a couple of days and the appetizers, sides, and desserts were all done. We’d set up two long portable tables in our dining room and put away the kids’ toys and unnecessary furniture. It was tight, but it looked pretty. In the midst of the party planning commotion, I received a call from my friend Joana. 

“Hey there!” I said. “Are you ready for Thanksgiving?” 

“No, I’m not,” she replied solemnly.  Joana had planned to attend her family’s Thanksgiving celebration, but that morning she discovered that a few of her staff had no place to go. She immediately called her aunt who was hosting the feast. Joanna explained the situation and asked if she could bring a few extra friends to the party. 

“I’m sorry,” her aunt told her over the phone. “But I already set everything up. I‘ve accounted for every seat and made place cards for each one. I’ve tried so hard on making this an intimate, family dinner and it would throw everything off to invite strangers.”

Joanna understood but didn’t want to leave those people stranded during the holidays. She called me to ask if she could join us instead. 

Orlando and I had to think about it for a minute.  We, too, had every seat accounted for in our tiny townhouse and we didn’t know the people she was asking to take. But we trusted Joana, and we knew if it was significant for her to find a place for these people to have Thanksgiving, then there must be a good reason for it. 

So we answered yes. 

Our home got pretty crowded that evening. My cousin brought an extra small turkey to make sure we had enough food and some of us ate sitting on the couch to make room for our new guests. With a few minor adjustments, everything worked out. 

What I learned that day was that no one cared if there was a beautifully decorated place setting for every guest, if our space was too small, or if they had to have a smaller portion of sweet potato casserole. Everyone was happy and everybody felt welcomed.  Joana was grateful to spend the night with her friends and the crew she cared so much about, and we all had a lovely time getting to know our surprise guests. 

It became the most memorable Thanksgiving we’ve ever had… and the one we talk about most fondly. That’s how life is. The moments we most treasure are usually perfectly imperfect. 

So don’t sweat the small stuff. When you live life with open arms and an open heart, there is abundance, beauty and joy in everything.

A Moment of Clarity

Many of us are blessed with family, friends, and a great support system—but many are not. Sometimes the most generous gesture you can make is to make room at your table for that extra person who would otherwise feel left out or insignificant. This is significant at work, at home and in social gatherings, and it is crucial to teach our future generation. 

You Are Enough

It feels like just yesterday I sat on my rocking chair, holding my baby in my arms while he nursed.  I spent countless hours sitting on that chair, and it was there that I read The Gift of an Ordinary Day. Something about how that mother expressed herself moved me. I savored her words and her wisdom. I didn’t want to be like her—I longed to write like her.

She was one of the many authors who inspired me to put pen to paper. And so I did.

For a long time I only kept my thoughts in my private diary. At some point I mustered the courage to start my blog, knowing full well my only loyal reader might be my mom. But I wrote anyway.

Last month I shared a piece of my upcoming book with a group of women. When I finished reading, one woman looked at me and said, “You don’t know this about me, but I’ve always been passionate about writing. I even took a writing class once and my professor told me I had real talent. But between work and the kids, I haven’t written in years. Your words have inspired me to write again.”

It never dawned on me that my words could influence someone the way others influenced me.  But I put them out there, anyway.

Although that woman’s comment was one of the biggest compliments I’d ever received, that is not the reason I write.

I write because of the three baby boys I held in my arms and rocked in my chair. I don’t know how long I’ll be on this Earth, but when I’m gone, I want to give my sons the gift my words. I want them to see my perspective and my interpretation of life. I want them to understand what a privilege it was for me to raise them and love them. I want them to learn my struggles and fears and how I overcame challenges. I want them to know I will always be there with them, even when I’m not.

What about you? Do you yearn to write but are afraid that your message won’t resonate with others? Write anyway. Have you read someone else’s work and think yours will never be that good? Write anyway. Are you afraid you’re not creative enough or wise enough?  Write anyway.

Start by keeping a private diary, or by creating a blog. Or there may be a book burning inside you — so write it. Whether your work touches one person or one million is irrelevant. You are the only one who can share your message and that will make it all worth it.

Tell your story and leave your mark on the world.

A Moment of Clarity

The only true failure of an aspiring writer is to leave their story untold.

 

*This post was inspired by the first writing contest I’ve ever participated in. Thank you, Positive Writer, for inspiring writers to encourage other writers.

A month of Gratitude

Hi all!

November is a wonderful time to reflect on our blessings and cultivate a gratitude mindset.

What are you grateful for this day, month, year?  Are you not sure? Well, guess what? It doesn’t matter!

Searching is what counts. Just thinking about what you’re grateful for will train your brain to look at your life differently and your thought patterns will begin to change.

Here are three simple ways to incorporate the practice of gratitude in your life this month:

Join A Gratitude Challenge 

Challenges are great because they get you focused on the goal you’re trying to achieve. Spending 30 days or more working on a specific goal gives you the opportunity to create a positive habit… and if it’s a habit that you can stick to, you can incorporate it into your lifestyle. Inviting friends and family to join your challenge is also a great way to stay accountable and it can make the process more fun.

I found this great Gratitude Challenge online, and I thought you might like it also.

Make it a Routine

Maybe you’re unmotivated or too busy to start a challenge, but recognize the importance of practicing gratitude. Here’s something I’ve been doing with my kids for two years and it’s been wonderful. I created a “What are you thankful for?” routine.

Every morning I take my kids to school. The first thing I do when we hop into the car is ask that question:”What are you thankful for?” Then each one of my boys and I have to say at least one thing we’re grateful for. There have been many mornings that my kids are sleepy, or we had a fight before we left the house and we’re all still mad at each other, or they’re upset for some other reason. On those days, it can be really hard to transition from bad mood to saying thank you to the universe. But I’ve insisted on creating that discipline. So even when I’m fuming, I take a deep breath, drive for a couple of minutes and then say, “Okay boys, what are we grateful for this morning?”

Sometimes their response is “nothing,” or “I don’t know.” When I get those answers, I begin a series of questions.

“Did you guys wake up this morning?

“Yes,” they say half-heartedly.

“Did you wake up in a cozy bed, with warm covers?”

“Yes.”

“Did you have food to eat breakfast?”

“Yes.”

“Do your parents have a car to drive you to school in?”

“Yes.”

You get the drift. I run through every mundane thing that we did that morning to show them all the things that we take for granted but are really blessed to have or do. And then I let them choose which one of those they want to be thankful for. Believe it or not, it works! It has been great training for all of us and has become our morning routine.

Read a beautiful story about how you can have gratitude mornings even from a distance here. 

Now we’re all so well trained that the kids have gotten very creative.  They tell me all sorts of random things they’re grateful for, like, their hands or crayons.

Share your Gratitude for others

Tell the people who have made a difference in your life that you’re thankful for them. You may think they already know how you feel but you have no idea what it means to someone when you can genuinely share something about them that you’re grateful for. Maybe they helped you in a moment of need. Maybe they’re that friend that you run to whenever you’re excited about something. Maybe they impacted your life with their kindness or generosity. Or maybe they’ve just always been there for you and you can’t imagine your life without them. Make this month the month you call them just to say thanks. Or invite them to a gratitude dinner. You can also send them a postcard!

With Thanksgiving around the corner, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the day to day business of the holidays, but make it a point to carve out some time for what really matters. Those few minutes in your day can make a huge difference in your life.

A Moment of Clarity

This November marks one year since I started this blog. Although I’d been writing over at Pile On the Greens for years, starting this blog marked a decision. The decision to turn my writing hobby into a speaking and writing career. It meant that I committed 100% to sharing inspirational stories, tips, and lessons with you every week, regardless of the circumstances.

And so this week I wanted to say THANKS to YOU. Thank you to those of you who faithfully transitioned with me from my former blog to this one. Thank you to those who are new here.  And thanks to all of you who believe in the Be There Even When You’re Not project. Thank you for letting me have a space in your inbox and in your hearts.

Who Will Tell Your Story?

We’d passed the billboard announcement for Havana Music Hall at the theater many times but didn’t know much about it. My husband was offered three tickets to attend the play, which worked out well because our oldest son was in rehearsals and I was at a speech.  A matinee was the perfect way for him and our two younger boys to let the time pass. But it was so much more than that.

The first thing Orlando did at intermission was call me. “Caro, you have to see this play. We have to bring my mom, your mom… the whole family needs to see this,” his voice was cracking.

“Are you crying?” I asked.

“I’m a little choked up. This show is everything theater should be. It has beautiful music and incredible dancers. It’s funny and sad—I’m blown away.”

“Wow,” was all I could say before he continued talking, “And it tells our story. It shows what our families went through when they left Cuba. I’ve known about this my whole life… but it’s a different ballgame when you see it.”

“How are the kids liking it?” I asked.

“Ryan keeps whispering in my ear, ‘Wait, this actually happened in real life?’”

The following Saturday, on a whim, the five of us caught the play, and I experienced what Orlando had described. I knew the story line and what to expect. And still, I wasn’t prepared for all the feelings that washed over me.

The play was so authentic to what happened to our families in the 1950s and 1960s when Fidel took power. You could replace the characters with any of the older Cubans sitting in the audience, and you’d be telling their story, too. It was impactful to watch old men and women relive history and see their pain acknowledged on stage. Havana Music Hall spoke not only to Cubans, but to the many cultures suffering under communist regimes.

I lingered in the lobby after the play finished and overheard families all around me recount their experiences of losing everything and restarting their lives in the United States. It made me wish I had one more chance to speak to my grandparents, who were my age when their lives were turned upside down, and have all since passed away. Or my dad, who was close to my son’s age when he fled his country. I know some of their stories, but do I know enough?

With every new generation, our history becomes further removed from our thoughts.  Our language, cultures, traditions, and lifestyle become a thing of the past. If we’re not careful, it could all be forgotten. This play awakened the desire in us to honor our history and ensure our children never forget what our families sacrificed for them to have the life they have today. It  inspires our generation to take advantage of the elders we have left and learn as much from them as we can before they go. Real life can be more fascinating than fiction. There are so many lessons in regular life and ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Those people exist in every family.

This reminded me of one of the underlying themes in the popular musical, Hamilton: that you have no control over who lives, who dies, or who tells your story.

What’s most amazing about Havana Music Hall is who brought our story to the stage. One would think someone of Cuban descent would create this play for our people—but it wasn’t. It was Richard Kagan, an American, inspired by stories of the Cuban Revolution who created and composed this musical.  I am so grateful to that American man who, 59 years later, is highlighting the inhumanity of Fidel’s regime, the humanity of the families affected, and the music and flavor of our culture.

But he couldn’t have done this brilliant work if he didn’t have access to the people who lived through those times.

And that brings me back to you.

We all have a story to tell. We each live through pain and sorrow, victory and triumph. Your unique journey is part of history. Share it. Keep a diary, a journal, a blog, or a vlog. Write a book. Document your life. Your observations, struggles, victories, and wisdom can serve as a compass for those who come after you. You may think your experiences are not worth sharing, but we don’t know where history will take us and what our children’s children’s lives will look like. They may long to know who you were and what you did—back then.

A Moment of Clarity

You don’t control who lives, who dies, or who tells your story… but the one thing you do control is whether you share your perspective and your truth. That might be exactly what someone needs to create the universal story that fills audiences with love, inspiration, and hope.

If you are in Miami, I urge you to see this musical while it lasts. Show ends on November 18th, 2018. Bring your children and family, especially if you are Cuban. This play is on its way to Broadway … remember you heard it here first. If you go see it, please let me know what you thought about it in the comments below.

(I have no financial gain in  passing this along. I am only sharing for the love of theater.)

The Choice of Success

Ten years ago I was pregnant and working as an attorney for the Public Defender’s office. I was in a trial the morning of my son’s due date, not knowing then that that was my last day there. The plan was to take maternity leave & return to work afterward, but everything changed the moment I held my baby in my arms. 

I never went back. 

One morning I received a call from a friend of mine while I was at my son’s school. 

“Where are you?” my friend asked. 

“At an Easter egg hunt,” I replied. 

She sighed, “I want to be like you when I grow up.” 

My friend was working long hours and hated being away from her kids. She thought I was lucky that I got to stay home. We do that a lot. We see someone else’s life and think they are “lucky” because they have something we wish we had. What we don’t do is analyze the choices they made to be where they are. 

In my case, for example, my friend didn’t realize that we took a major financial hit at the same time as I decided not to go back to work. The 2008 market crashed; My husband was a young associate in a law firm and wasn’t generating substantial income; We accrued credit card debt just to cover our bills; We’d bought our townhouse the month we married, intending to only live there for a couple of years—but my at-home status meant we’d squeeze our family of five into that starter home long after we outgrew it. Meanwhile, our dual-income friends purchased bigger and nicer houses, but their mortgages prohibited them from losing an income earner in the household.  

 The choice to stay home came with sacrifice—and creativity. 

When my son was 6 months old, I was ready to make money, but I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. I didn’t want a nine-to-five arrangement. I picked up bookkeeping work which allowed me to work from home and at nights. 

Click here to listen to the Podcast Interview

“Bookkeeping?” People would question, “Aren’t you a lawyer? Why would you study all those years and pay all those student loans not to practice law?” 

My response was always the same. “I became a lawyer to have choices. This is the choice I’m making right now so I could be home with my child.” 

Eventually, my husband started his own criminal defense law firm and crushed it; We got out of debt; I resumed practicing law on my own terms; I became a businesswoman; And now I’ve started all over again building a professional speaking & writing career. 

We centered every decision we made on one main thing—flexibility.

As a result, I’ve been able to spend countless precious moments with my kids, my spouse, my family and my friends. And I got to be with my dad until he died. 

Have I been lucky? Yes. But I’ve actively taken part in creating my luck—I never left it to chance. We put all of our focus on creating the life that worked for our family—struggles and all. 

They say it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. But what is success? Is it money, fame, a big house, or a fancy car?  Is it staying home with your kids or reaching the peak of your career? Is it traveling the world or camping in your backyard? Is it creating businesses or enjoying hobbies? 

The answer is—that depends on you. Only you know what your definition is of success and it could differ from everyone else’s. The problem we have is that we often measure our own success against someone else’s yardstick. When we make professional, financial, and emotional choices that are not congruent with our definition of success, it can confuse us and make us think others are luckier than we are. 

This week we celebrated my son’s 10th birthday. My husband had to be in Court in Orange County on Wednesday morning, so we made it a mini-vacation and took the boys to Universal Studios to visit the Harry Potter world. As we wandered the park on a Wednesday, enjoying time with our family, I couldn’t help but look back at where we started 10 years ago, and reflect on how far we’ve come. 

I stepped onto the Hulk Roller Coaster with Orly who had just reached the height requirement for the ride.We sat side by side in the first row, and I held Orly’s hand tight while he giggled with excitement. As the ride launched toward the sky, I closed my eyes and smiled… Yes! This is my definition of success. 

A Moment of Clarity

Life is about choices.

You have the power to make the choices that will make YOU feel successful 10 years from today. 

Choose carefully. 

Do You Believe in Magic?

My dad believed there are two kinds of people: critical thinkers and magical thinkers. Critical thinkers question everything; they rely on science and evidence. Then, there are magical thinkers; that meant everyone else.

Some would confuse my father for an atheist, but he defined himself as an agnostic and a humanitarian. That means he claimed neither faith nor disbelief in God and he focused on improving people’s lives and reducing suffering. He was a man of science who could not rely on faith alone. I can still hear him whispering, “Always be a critical thinker, mi amor.”

Growing up I wanted to be just like my dad, so I questioned everything. I drove the nuns crazy at school. I got in trouble for asking challenging questions in religion and catechism class. I even became a lawyer.

My Catholic mother disagreed with my father’s beliefs and constantly tried to counter his influence in this regard. For a few years in high school, I had a very religious boyfriend. His parents had the marriage I wished my parents had … the marriage I dreamed to have in the future. My mom used their example to convince me that their relationship was successful because they were people of faith. I believed her.

I began attending church. I joined the peer ministry group at my school. I tried to believe. My mother was thrilled as she feared that my lack of faith would be my downfall. But there were aspects of the faith that the critical thinker in me could not reconcile—things I either didn’t believe or couldn’t agree with. I’d seen life from a different angle and couldn’t unring that bell.

I turned to my father for guidance. “I love their faith, their traditions, and their community. I want what they have, but some things don’t make sense. I don’t know what to do.”

My dad smiled and placed his large hand on my shoulder, “I guess you’re an Agno-Catholic then.”

“A what?” I asked.

“An Agno-Catholic. You don’t claim blind faith without evidence but you enjoy many aspects of the religion and choose to be a part of it.”

I appreciated this about my dad. He demanded that I gather my own conclusions instead of mindlessly accepting what others believed to be true, but he never asked that my conclusions be the same as his. He taught me the true meaning of respect.

I didn’t fit into any belief system. I explored different religions and theories and found comfort and discomfort in all of them.  The personal development world was one I felt most comfortable in because it allowed me to learn the skills I needed to create the life and marriage that I once thought were only possible for the devout.

And yet, at times I felt a deep sense of spirituality. For example,  when I became a mother and was struck by the magnificence of the process of creating a child in my womb, of birth, and of the immense love I felt for this tiny creature. It was a magical experience, full of mystery and awe and it left me wondering if there was something bigger than we could see or understand.

Regardless, I always took pride in being a critical thinker like my dad. I would never want anyone to confuse me for a magical thinker. And that’s why it’s so ironic that I have become one.

It happened on New Year’s Eve. I was on vacation with my family. The whole trip had been different than any other we’d ever been on, with wild coincidences and special moments. But on that last December night as we drove up the mountains of North Carolina, my husband lost control of our car and we fishtailed toward the edge of a cliff.

What led up to that incident and what happened afterward changed everything.

It all felt like it had happened for a reason. As if something was telling me, “Pay attention. There are lessons for you here.”

In his latest book, The Story Story, Dave Bricker writes “…we’re all mulling over the idea that either something magic happened or we witnessed an epic coincidence.”

I couldn’t explain it. I couldn’t prove it. But I knew it to be true: My parents’ divorce, my struggle with faith, the husband I chose, the kids I was given, the death of my father, the signs I’d received from him since he left, the book project my dad and I began before he died —they were all connected.

I’d been trying to find my way since my father’s death; trying to finish the book we started writing together; trying to decide whether to continue practicing law or pursue a speaking career to carry his legacy; trying to step into his shoes that felt too large for me to fill. I finally understood why I hadn’t been able to finish the book. It was the same reason it’s been so difficult for me to truly own my message, Be There Even When You’re Not. I was coming from a critical thinker’s perspective and trying to establish a formula—if you do x, you will have y.

But life isn’t that simple. There is no one answer. That is precisely why I can’t believe that there is one “right” religion! The fear that my message might not work for someone paralyzed me. I’d been stuck in my own head.

But in this moment, stopped at the edge of this mountain with my husband and three boys, all of us scared to death, everything made sense. Be There Even When You’re Not is about being together even when you’re separated; about accepting the people you love even when you disagree with their decision; about preserving relationships despite the obstacles; about finding your truth even if it’s a mix of different theories; and it’s about suspending judgment and behaving with love.

The lessons on that mountain, the imprint we had on our children, and all the coincidences were proof to me that true transformation lies in transforming your perspective.  It wasn’t my job to solve the mystery of the universe, but it sure is my responsibility to participate in the process of exploring those mysteries.

That’s why I must share my story, and you must share yours. Because we all have magic in us, and sharing it makes this world a brighter place. If my dad were alive, I’d be telling him, “I will always be a critical thinker—but I believe in Magic too.”

A Moment of Clarity

There is magic in everything—we just choose whether we see it or not.

Even critical thinkers can marvel at the mystery of the universe.

 

There Are No Wasted Auditions … Part 3

“Successful people are willing to do things that unsuccessful people are not willing to do.” Joachim de Posada

Are You Devoted?

We’d gotten what we wanted. Orlando had promised Orly that Pippin’s director would recommend him for a role one day, and the day had come. Orly had learned that when you show up prepared and focused, there are no wasted auditions. I felt like he was being rewarded … not only for a strong audition … but for the grace and good will he’d shown when his younger brother got the role instead.

But now we had a new conflict. The developmental workshop rehearsals were scheduled from Saturday to Wednesday with the final reading on Thursday.  We’d booked our pre-planned trip to New York City on that Wednesday.

Ideally, we’d reschedule the trip for another time so Orly could participate in the reading, but it wasn’t that easy.

The flights and tickets to the event we were attending were non-refundable. The hotel would cancel our reservation but charge a one-night penalty.   And then the real deal breaker … Hamilton. The tickets had cost us a fortune and were also non-refundable.  I thought of reselling them, but we learned a very expensive lesson when it comes to purchasing theatre tickets.

At the time of purchase, we selected the Will-Call option, which means they’d be at the box office of the theater. But guess what? We had to show our driver’s license to pick up the tickets. They will only release them to the purchaser. Buyer Beware! If you are purchasing tickets in a different state, choose the option to print your tickets at home or have them mailed to you.  You need to be in physical possession of them in order to sell or transfer them.  This tip will save you big time if you ever have to change your plans like we did. We stood to lose thousands of dollars if we cancelled the trip.

“Why don’t you email the director? Maybe the workshop dates can be moved around by a few days,” I suggested to Orlando.

“Are you crazy?” He shook his head no. “They’re not going to change the dates of the workshop for us!”

“We don’t lose anything by asking,” I insisted.

“This is pointless, but fine,” Orlando appeased me.

A few days later, the director responded that the dates were set in stone because they were flying in the director and composer from New York City. How ironic.

We told the kids about the trip and the conflict. You can imagine their disappointment.

“Do I have to do the workshop?” Orly asked.

“It depends on how committed you are to your acting,” I replied.

“But I don’t even know what a reading is. What if we give up going to New York and the reading isn’t any fun? What if I don’t like it?”

This was a tough decision for a kid. Heck, it was a tough decision for us. But life is about choices.  The right answer doesn’t come in a gift box with a bow wrapped around it.

“I’m sure you prefer to go to New York than do the workshop. That sounds like a lot more fun than the reading. But opportunities like this don’t come around often and you never know if you’ll have another chance like it. You’re going to be working with a director from Broadway and an up and coming composer from NYC! You don’t know what this workshop can mean for you in the future. Maybe nothing at all. But what if it’s the beginning of other possibilities?  That’s the thing, you just never know.  This is a defining moment in your life. What are you willing to sacrifice for your dreams?”

Orly looked down at the floor, “Okay, I’ll stay for the workshop.”

I thought about my dad and how proud he’d be if he were alive to witness this moment. He wrote a book called, “Don’t Eat The Marshmallow…Yet!” It explains that the secret to success is the ability to delay gratification, meaning that you are willing to resist the temptation for an immediate reward to wait for a later reward. Orly didn’t eat the marshmallow. I knew right then that no matter what he does in the future, he will be successful.

The decision was made. We emailed the director and confirmed that Orly would participate in the workshop.

After much consideration, we tried to minimize our losses and salvage our trip. I’d fly to New York with the boys on Wednesday morning as planned. Orlando would stay behind with Orly and meet us in New York. They could jump on the 5am flight on Friday morning and still make it to our scheduled event and Hamilton. It seemed like a good plan … until we arrived at Orly’s first rehearsal.

We dropped off the younger boys at their friend’s house so we could stay with Orly. We were all a little nervous. We arrived early and peeked through the glass window of the classroom. Students stood in rows with music stands in front of them, facing a man playing the piano. They all sang in unison. It felt grand.

The director spotted us and opened the door.

“Listen up everyone. I want you to say hi to Orly. He’ll be playing the role of Kurt.”

“Hi Orly!”  The students greeted him cheerfully.

“Welcome,” the pianist, Mark Sonnenblick, waved us in.

We walked in quietly and grabbed some seats in the back. The UM director walked over with a young woman, while the students resumed their rehearsal. “Orly, this is Maggie,” he whispered. “She’s directing this musical.”

“Hi Maggie,” Orly said.  Maggie was friendly. She handed him some music sheets and talked to him for a little bit. The UM director kneeled in front of us to tell us what was going on. “Turns out Act one, which is the Act we’re working on during this workshop, revolves mainly around Kurt,” he said with a smile. “Your son is going to have three major solos.” Orly’s mouth dropped. My heart stopped.

Orlando saw my face and knew what I was thinking. He put his arm around me and whispered, “There’s no point in you being in another city when your heart will be here. Don’t worry about the money.”

I almost cried. There was no way I could get on a plane to New York and miss seeing my son perform three solos. That night I cancelled our three remaining reservations and booked us on the Friday morning flight with Orlando and Orly. It was the best decision I could’ve made.

The next five days were a whirlwind. Orly worked harder than he’s ever worked in his life. Mark, Maggie, and the students were incredibly kind and patient with him. They spent hours upon hours rehearsing. During Orly’s free time, he worked with his vocal teacher.

Because this was a workshop, the script changed constantly and Orly had to adapt to new lines and new scenes. He was resilient and rolled with the punches.

By the night of the reading, Orly wasn’t the same kid that walked into rehearsal the first day. He’d poured his heart and soul into this performance, and had grown as a singer and actor.  He’d bonded with the students, the director, and the composer. And he was a part of something that was beautiful. Mark’s work is magnificent. His musical belongs on Broadway. The day it gets there, Orly will have been a part of its inception.

There was a dramatic scene toward the end of the play when Orly stood singing his solo in front of the audience and the rest of the Cast rose from their seats to join him in song. Goosebumps filled my arms and tears streamed down my face from how lucky I felt to be in that room, witnessing that moment. This experience was more special than any of us could’ve ever imagined.

A Moment of Clarity

We learned some pretty expensive lessons from this experience like to always buy refundable airfare and the tip about ticket delivery.  But we also learned that experiences are worth more than money; that opportunities must be seized when they appear; and that you are rewarded when you delay gratification.

The next morning at the crack of dawn we boarded the flight to New York City. Orly buckled in and leaned over to look at us, “Thanks for pushing me to do the workshop. I wouldn’t have traded one minute of it for New York.”

I laughed, “Well, you’re a pretty lucky kid considering you’re getting to do both!”

He leaned back on his chair and with a big smile on his face said, “Yep. We need to get to know that place, since I’m going to live there when I grow up!”