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.

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. 

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!”

There Are No Wasted Auditions (Part 2)

Sometimes big disappointments prepare you for bigger opportunities.

How can you protect your kids from having their self-esteem crushed but also prepare them for real life? How do you teach them to work hard, chase their dreams, and take leaps of faith, and at the same time explain to them that working hard doesn’t always pay off, that dreams are sometimes just fantasies, and that the net doesn’t always catch you when you jump?

How do you prepare them to plow forward, when you struggle with this paradox in your own life?

We faced this dilemma when our son poured his heart and soul into getting a role for a play, Pippin, and his younger brother who didn’t work as hard—and isn’t passionate about acting—got the part instead. (Click here to read last week’s post)

We’d been afraid that this might hurt their relationship, but Orly showed incredible grace and maturity when he was able to separate being happy for his brother from being sad for himself.

Orly continued acting and auditioned for a role in Winnie the Pooh at another local children’s theatre, landing the character, “Peter The Rabbit.”

Winnie The Pooh’s opening night coincided with Orly’s birthday. He received a gift like no other, when four 21-year-olds from the Pippin cast, showed up to watch Orly perform. We’d gotten to know these students from the UM Theatre School since we spent a lot of time waiting around for Justin during rehearsals. I’m sure they had much better things to do on a Friday night than attend a kids’ show, but theater people are special.

This goes to show that you can build relationships even when you’re on the side-lines. You never know what those relationships will mean in your life. We’d connected with these young adults in a magical way—and we knew someway, somehow, we’d meet again.

Our son’s wounds scabbed, and our family bond grew stronger. It was a time of learning and healing.

One Saturday morning, Orlando sat in the terrace browsing through his phone as he enjoyed his morning coffee and weekend mini-cigar. I swung in my hanging chair, writing on my laptop.

“Check this out, Caro.” He interrupted me. He’d seen a cool event happening in New York that the kids would love, and immediately looked up flights.

“Tickets to New York are super cheap.” He also found discounted prices and availability in a great hotel in the heart of Midtown.

It was a great deal. “Let’s do it, babe.” I agreed.

“You know what would make this trip perfect?”

Uh oh, I thought, knowing my husband.

“If we took the kids to see Hamilton.”

“Are you nuts?” I yelled. “Hamilton tickets are way too expensive. Forget it.”

“But we’ve saved so much money on everything else,” Orlando pleaded. “Experiences like this one is what we work so hard for. Our sons love Hamilton right now. We don’t know how long that’ll last. Besides, I’d love to do something special for them after the whole Pippin thing. Let’s make this an amazing experience. It’ll be our Christmas present to our family. ”

This conversation pretty much sums up our marriage:

I’m conservative and calculated.

He’s impulsive and spontaneous.

I think about it.

He acts on it.

We find a way to meet in the middle.

After an hour debating the pros and cons, I begrudgingly agreed to buy the Hamilton tickets.

Goodbye cheap trip to NYC.

Nonetheless, we couldn’t wait to surprise our kids on Christmas.

But on December 14th, an email arrived that would change everything:

I was given your contact information from the director of Pippin…

We are doing a developmental reading of a new musical called Devotion…

There is a part in the musical for a 10-year-old boy…

The workshop/reading will take place from January 20th through January 25th…

If you’re interested in your son being considered…

There is nothing better than kids who trust their parents. I adamantly dislike pre-teen shows and kid super hero movies that make the parents look like morons. I’ve never understood why these companies would program children to distrust their parents. That programming encourages children to turn to their peers and social media for guidance when they need it, and that can steer young people in the wrong direction.

We strive to avoid this. We’re honest and open with our kids when they ask us questions (regardless of how uncomfortable the answers are), we follow through on our word, and we don’t make promises we can’t keep. It’s why I was nervous when my husband promised my son that the director would call him one day for another role. But Orlando was confident. “The director said she looked forward to working with Orly in the future. Something has to come up one day where she recommends him for a role.”

He was right.

He called the director who emailed us. “Thank you for your email. Orly would love to be considered for this role. Please let us know when the audition is,” Orlando said.

“Oh, there isn’t an audition.” The director replied. “If Pippin’s director thinks he’s perfect for this role, that’s all we need to know.”

“Wow, okay.” Orlando replied surprised. “What’s the play about?”

“It’s actually a workshop/reading. We’ve received a grant to feature our theater students in a new musical, Devotion, by musical composer and lyricist, Mark Sonnenblick and Broadway director, Maggie Burrows. The play has one child role.”

OH MY GOD!

We couldn’t wait to share this news with our son. As soon as we got home, we sat Orly down on the sofa. His brothers gathered around being nosy.

“Orly, you remember how sad you were that you didn’t get the part of Pippin?” His dad asked.

“Of course I do.” Orly smirked.

“Well, guess what? We just received an email from UM. They’re bringing in a composer and director from New York to do a workshop of a new musical. They need a 10-year-old boy for one of the roles. Would you like to audition?”

“Yea, sure.” Orly said but his half-hearted response showed he wasn’t confident about getting the part.

“Well, you can’t audition.”

“Why not?” His face turned serious.

“Because you already got the role!”

“What?”Orly’s eyes lit up.

“Remember when we told you there are no wasted auditions? Well, it turns out your Pippin audition was really an audition for Devotion. They saw your talent and your behavior, and now they don’t need to look for someone else to fill that role. They want you.”

Orly jumped off the couch and ran around the house. Justin ran behind him, hugging him and screaming.  “Dad, you promised she’d remember me, and she did! I can’t believe it.” Orly hugged his dad.

It was a golden moment in parenting world. A moment that we hoped would yield our kids’ trust in the future.But it was also a life lesson for all of us.

A Moment of Clarity

We audition for roles, interview for jobs, submit articles for publications, and invest our resources hoping for that opportunity which is right in front of us. It’s devastating to be rejected. It feels like we’re not good enough or smart enough or connected enough. But the work is never wasted. The investment of time, energy, and honing your skills is not lost—unless you quit.

If you stay on course, other opportunities will appear. All that work and effort will suddenly be worth it. You’ll realize you’d been in training for something bigger; you just didn’t know it at the time.

For a moment, everything was right in our world.


And then, I opened my calendar to pencil in the dates of the workshop.

“Orlando, can I talk to you for a minute in private?” We walked into our bedroom and closed the door.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“The reading is on January 25th. Our flight to New York leaves on the 24th and it’s non-refundable. What do we do now?”

God sure has a sense of humor.

Do we lose thousands of dollars and cancel the surprise trip we planned for our children with so much love? Or do we decline the opportunity our son was given in furtherance of his dream of becoming an actor?

What would you do?

Stay tuned for the final post on this story next week, and find out how we handled this conflict.

There Are No Wasted Auditions (Part One)

The hardest thing for a parent to do is watch their kid fail. But without failure, there is no true success.

“Audition Opportunity!” read the subject line of the email. My nine-year-old, Orly, is passionate about acting. He wants to be on Broadway one day. He’s auditioned for several roles in different theaters, which landed me on multiple mailing lists.

“Looking for three to four young actors, any age but under 4 feet tall, to play the role of Theo in our upcoming Tony Award winning Broadway musical, Pippin” University of Miami’s Ring Theater was hosting the audition. Theo was the only child part in the play, meaning the young actor would be performing alongside University of Miami’s junior and senior theater students. They were looking for three or four actors so that the children could alternate in between performances.

Knowing my son would kill to audition for this, I forwarded the message to my husband. Not two minutes later, the phone rang.

“Did you see the email?” I asked, forgetting to say “Hello.”

“He’s going to love this,” Orlando replied. “What a great opportunity.”

“What about the height restriction?” I asked. “Orly might be right on the cusp of four feet.”

“Yes, I think he’s right around that height.” Orlando agreed. “You know who else might be perfect for this audition?”

“Who?”

“Justin.”

Justin was our adorable six-year-old who has an incredible ability to memorize lines, but his personality is very different than his brother’s.

“Do you think Justin would want to do something like this?”  I asked.

“Let’s ask him. They’re looking for three to four actors for the same role. Both brothers could be Theo. How cool would that be?”

“That would be awesome,” I agreed.

We brought up the audition at dinner. Orly’s eyes lit up immediately. “I want to audition!”

Justin was less enthused. “Justy, tell us. Do you want to audition for Theo?” I stroked his cheek.

“I don’t know,” he said nonchalantly. “I guess.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to, buddy. But we think it would be a great experience for you and imagine how cool it would be if both you and your brother got to be in the same play.” Orlando said.

“Okay, I’ll do it.” He said casually.

After dinner, Orlando played some of the Pippin songs so the boys could become familiar with the play. Orly began rehearsing right away. For the next few days, I’d hear Orly singing alone in his bedroom and in the shower. He was always practicing. He’d auditioned for roles before but had never taken them quite as seriously as this one.

We’d been trying to instill the importance of preparation in him, and it seemed to have all “clicked.”

He’d get frustrated with his brother who was not as committed. “Justin, you have to be prepared for this audition,” he’d scold him as if he were an adult. “If you’re not willing to work for this, you’re not going to get the part.”

Justin was unfazed.

On the day of the audition, we sat the boys down. “Okay guys, today’s the big day. Remember that several things can happen: 1. Both of you get the part, 2. Neither of you get the part, or 3. Only one of you gets the part. Regardless of what happens, remember that you are brothers. If one of you gets to be Theo and the other doesn’t, be thrilled for your brother; brothers back up and support each other. Understood?”

They nodded their heads and off they went with their dad.

Upon their return, I got the details. Orly had a great audition. Even the director commented on how well he did. Justin, on the other hand, was all over the place. He sang well but was fooling around and being silly. Orlando and Orly were not happy about his behavior.

Every day for the next few days, Orly asked, “Have you heard from UM?”

“Nothing yet.” We continued to prepare both of them for the possibilities we had discussed earlier.

Then I got the call from Orlando. “Are you sitting down?” His voice sounded surprised.

Could they have both gotten the part? Is it good news or bad news?

 “What is it?” I asked.

“Justin got the role of Theo.” Yes! They both got the part. “So they both got in?” I confirmed.

“No, Caro. Orly didn’t get in.”

What?

I never considered that Justin would get the role over his older brother.

“But didn’t you said he was fooling around during the audition?” I asked.

“He was!” Orlando exclaimed. “She liked Justin’s innocence and angelic face. Apparently, not being polished worked to his advantage. The director loved Orly, but he was too tall for the Theo she envisioned.”

“Orly is going to be devastated,” I said softly.

We’d been telling our son to work hard and be prepared and that would get him to where he wanted to be. But his little brother was getting the role even though he barely worked for it. As much as we loved Justin, we felt disappointed. It didn’t seem fair or right. Orly wanted this more than his brother did. He worked harder. He deserved it more.

For a moment, we thought of telling the boys that neither of them got the part. Justin wouldn’t be as devastated as Orly would be—but only for a moment.

Are we crazy? We can’t do that.

Justin deserved to have his moment in the spotlight as much as Orly did. And whether he had been fooling around or not, he had earned his role and it was our responsibility to celebrate that. Besides, we have to let our kids fail. We’re not doing them any favors by shielding them from disappointments. These moments build character. We knew what we had to do, but it was painful.

“Let me be the one to tell him,” Orlando said. “I’ll come by and pick him up in 15 minutes. Have him ready.”

With my poker face on, I told my son to get ready to go to the grocery store with his dad. He put his shoes on and rushed out of the house.

Orlando drove them around the block and parked in a nearby school parking lot. “What are you doing, Dad?” Orly asked.

“Orly, I have something to tell you. Justin was chosen to be Theo for Pippin, but you weren’t.” Our son’s eyes dropped down to the floor.

“Orly, I know this is devastating for you, but you can’t let it get you down. You had a great audition. You killed it. In fact, the director called me because she wanted you to know how impressed she was by you. She said she’d keep you in mind for future performances.”

“But if I did so well, why didn’t I get the part?” he asked.

“Because this wasn’t the right part for you, buddy. You are too tall and mature for the role. You’re not going to be a good fit for every part. And the acting world is full of rejection. If you want to be on Broadway like you say you do, you’d better get used to hearing ‘No’ more often than ‘Yes.’ That’s how it works. You’re going to have to develop thick skin.”

“Okay,” Orly whimpered.

“About your brother. Justin has been your biggest fan, sitting front row at all your performances and rooting for you. He’s always the first one to run up to hug you when you’re done. It’s his turn to shine. He deserves for you to be as supportive of him as he has been of you. And if you weren’t going to get the part, who better than your brother to get it?”

Orlando pulled Orly close to give him a hug. Tears streamed down both of their faces.

I waited anxiously as I saw my husband’s car pull into the driveway. Orly got off and opened the front door. “Justin,” He yelled loudly. “Come give your brother a hug!”

Justin ran right into Orly’s open arms.

“Why are you hugging me?” He asked mid-hug.

“Because you’re Theo.”

“Really?” Justin squealed. “Are you Theo too?”

“No Justy, I’m not. But I’m so proud of you.”

There are moments in life you will never forget. Watching this young boy, whose glossy eyes and pink nose revealed he’d been crying, put aside his feelings to celebrate his brother was one of those moments. I couldn’t have been prouder of my son.

When it was time for bed, I laid next to Orly like I always do. He began to cry again. “Mom.” He sniffled. “It’s not that I’m not happy for Justin. I’m genuinely happy for him, but I’m sad for me, too. I don’t get it, mom. I’ve been working really hard. Is it that I’m not good enough?”

“These things happen, my love—even when you work hard—but eventually your persistence and commitment will pay off.”  I rested my head on my hands as I spoke to him. “You can feel happy for brother and sad for yourself at the same time. You know what you have to do tonight?”

“What?”

“Cry all you want. Feel sad or mad or whatever you want to feel.”

“And then?”

“And then tomorrow get back up again, ready to audition for the next play. Tomorrow, get back to working on your craft to be the best you can possibly be … because there’s an awesome role waiting for you right around the corner.”

Just then, Orlando walked into the room. “Orly, you know what? It doesn’t matter whether you got the role of Theo or not. Remember that the director said you made a great impression on her. There are no wasted auditions. One day, she’ll think of you when another kid role comes up, and this will all have been worth it.”

“You promise?” Orly asked.

We do not take promises lightly in our home. Having our children’s complete trust and confidence is one of our biggest priorities. Orly knows that, so this was an extremely loaded question.

Orlando paused, looked at his son, and replied, “I promise.”

A smile crossed our son’s face. We kissed him and walked out of his bedroom.

On the opening night of Pippin, we left Justin backstage and took our seats in the theatre.

With a huge smile on his face, Orly turned to me and said, “Mom, my legs are jelly.”

“Why” I asked.

“Because I’m so excited for Justin.” He squeezed my hand as we waited for his brother to take the stage.

A Moment of Clarity

I felt a little proud, a little sad, and a little hopeful that our son would be rewarded for his commitment, courage, and character.

But no matter what, I knew everything was going to be alright.

(Stay tuned for next week to find out what happened next)

 

 

 

Shake On It

Working out early in the morning is an absolute priority for me, but my kids’ back to school schedule presented a conflict. I knew I wouldn’t make it home in time to wake them up and get them ready. The first week of school, I skipped my morning runs, and one pilates class. I was not happy about it.

Unwilling to make this compromise, I sat my kids down and explained the situation.

“Mommy has to exercise in the mornings and the only way she can do that is if you guys help me. You each have an alarm clock. I’m going to set the clocks to 6:30am and I’m going to leave this list on your desk. Your job is to get up by yourselves, and start working on the list. By the time I get home, you need to be dressed and have brushed your teeth and hair.”

I couldn’t tell if they were taking me seriously, so I added, “Here’s the deal.  I know how much you love staying up late on the weekends. That privilege comes with responsibility. If you can’t wake up in the morning by yourselves, then you won’t have the privilege of staying up late during the weekend.”

Eyes grew wide and mouths dropped. “What?” Justin exclaimed.

Now they’re listening.

“In life, privilege comes with responsibility and consequences, buddy. You need to be responsible for waking up to the alarm and starting your day on your own.”

That was all I had to say. The next day, I went to my pilates class and when I returned my three boys were fully dressed and ready to go. Everything was going well until the following Wednesday evening.

“Okay boys, let’s set your alarms. Tomorrow I run so I get home a little later than usual. It’s very important that you’re ready to go by the time I get back. Let’s go over your list.”

Orly had had enough. “Mooooom!” He whined.

“What?” I was confused. I hadn’t said anything different than the other days.

“You’re doing this every day. When are you going to stop running and doing pilates?”

“I’ve been exercising every morning for years, Orly. Nothing has changed.”  But something had changed, because my morning routine was now interfering with his life.

“I know but every morning is the same thing. We have to wake up by ourselves, and you’re not here. Enough already. Until when are you going to do this?”  He pressured me.

“Until I’m 100.” I answered, nonchalantly.

His eyes rolled. “Mom, give me a break. I’m being serious.”

“So am I,” I said. “I’ll be running and doing pilates until I’m 100.”

“No you’re not, mom. You can’t run and do pilates at 100 years old,” he scoffed.

“Wanna make a bet?” I challenged.

“Mom, you may not even LIVE to be 100!” He kept arguing.

I put my hand out. “Okay, let’s shake on it. I bet you if I’m alive at 100, I’ll be running and doing pilates.”

“And what if you’re not?” He asked.

“Then you’ll be telling everyone you know that if your mom were alive she’d be running and doing pilates!”

Orly’s hand met mine and we smiled as we exaggeratedly shook our hands up and down.

I laid with him in bed for a few minutes. “You’re funny, mom.” He said as his eyes drifted off to sleep.

I better stay in good shape! I laughed to myself as I walked out of his bedroom. I can’t control everything that will happen between now and when I get to 100 (or if I do). But by shaking hands with my son I did three things:

1. I showed him that I’ve set an intention to stay healthy and strong for as long as I can.

2. I made him my partner in the journey.

3. I held myself accountable to the kind of lifestyle I want to lead.

What seemed like an annoyance for my son at the beginning (running through the checklist and setting alarm clocks) became a light-hearted team effort.  My son’s paradigm had shifted to helping me work towards my goal of exercising until I’m 100 by cooperating with me in the morning.  And by me going for my run, I’m sticking to my end of the challenge.

I walked through the door the next morning and headed towards my kids’ bedroom. They were awake and ready. 

“How was your run, mama?” Orly asked.

“Great.” I said, “But Orly, I suggest you start training soon—because when you’re 70 and I’m 100—you’re not going to be able to keep up with me!”

A Moment of Clarity

Sometimes we feel like we have to put our goals and dreams aside for the sake of our kids. And sometimes we do have to shift focus and readjust for them. As they get older, though, it is quite powerful to dream and partner with your kids. It’s important for them to know what you’re working towards, and how their cooperation will help you get there. That’s what great families do. They help each other, they push each other, and they hold each other accountable. Great families are always there for each other, even when they’re not physically there.

Should I feel guilty that I want my kids to go back to school?

One of the fellow moms from my son’s upcoming kindergarten class shared an article from the Huffington Post about a mother sending her little boy off to school. The article promised to be a real tear-jerker judging by the image of the woman and the little boy sharing a tender moment. I started reading it right before bed because, who doesn’t like a good tug at the heart strings, but it didn’t get me teary eyed. In fact, I couldn’t even get past the first part where the author wrote: “I’ll miss our quiet days together.” My thought was: what quiet days together?

For a short minute I felt like there was something wrong with me for not relating to this sentimental article.

Could it be because he’s my last child and not my first?

Shouldn’t knowing this is my last baby make this article even sadder?

Am I missing the big picture?

The next morning during my morning run, I made a comment about how excited I was that my kids were starting school next week.  One of my running friends’ asked: “Are you feeling guilty about wanting your kids to return to school?”

“Absolutely not!” I exclaimed, “If I have to hear, ‘Mommy, he hit me first!’ one more time, I’m going to lose it. The one burning question I have is how the hell do parents home-school their children!”

As I was saying this, my mind wandered back to opening that article about the kindergartener and once again I questioned myself: Should I feel guilty about wanting my kids to go back to school? Is there something wrong with me?

We’re in an era where we parents are constantly reminded that our time with our kids is fleeting. We are told to enjoy every minute of our time with them because it won’t last. And it’s true. It doesn’t last. But here’s the problem: in our quest to be mindful, present, and grateful, we can easily fall victim to feeling guilty when we’re ready for a new season.

I remember reading once that when it comes to raising kids, the days are long but the years are short. Having a son that is almost 10, I can certainly vouch for how quickly the years have gone by.

But here’s the thing, the days are long–and if you’re fully invested in your kids– the days can seem even longer. I’ve had a wonderful summer with my kids and I’ve had the luxury and privilege to be fully immersed in their care. This means we’ve traveled together, played together, and stayed up late together. We’ve had a blast!  But it also means that I’ve had to say “No!” to watching TV a gazilion times, mediate fights between siblings, force them to set aside reading and math time every day, and beg them to pick up after themselves. There have been as many yelling matches, tears, and time-outs as there have been I love you’s, cuddles, and belly-aching laughter.

It also means I’ve fallen behind in work and my routines are out of whack. It takes me twice as long to do things like write or respond to an email (This blog post alone has taken me three days to write).

My house has been a loud, rambunctious playground for my 9, 7, and 5 year old boys…and their friends…for three months.

So the answer to the question, “should I feel guilty about wanting my kids to return to school?” is an unequivocal: “NO.”

Some of my parent-friends are dreading back to school routines, waking up early, and structured days. That’s okay, too. I’m pretty sure by December I’ll be excited for another break from routine. But right now, I’m longing for a few solitary hours to focus on my business so I can continue pursuing my passion while raising my kids to pursue theirs. They’re both important and both deserve attention, and the key is to not let one rob you from the other….at least not all the time.

The beautiful thing about ages, stages, and seasons is that you can enjoy them, suffer through them, relish them, and then move on to the next phase. Isn’t that being truly present?

My running buddy, David Altshuler’s, weekly blogpost titled “Eight Year Old World,” was about some time David spent taking care of other people’s eight year olds this summer.  He cleverly articulated: “It is easier to write about eight-year-olds than to live with them.”

In this article, my friend shared wisdom as a man who’s already raised his kids and understands that despite how challenging the process can be, we should be truly grateful for the opportunity. This one hit closer to home and I found myself feeling extra grateful for the fun times I’ve had with my kids this summer.

But I still can’t wait for the kids to go back to school.

A Moment of Clarity

There’s nothing wrong with me for feeling that way…or with you… no matter what you feel.

 

 

What Successful People Are Willing To Do…

Let’s say you play soccer. And let’s say you belong to a team that hired David Beckham to coach you. Would you take advantage of that opportunity?

I assume your answer is: “Of course I would!”

I’ve been shocked to see how many people let opportunities like this slip through their fingers.

My kids play chess. This summer, they were invited to participate in a competitive five-week chess training program, which included competing in the 2018 Southern Open Chess Tournament. This intensive training was taught by an International Grand Master, currently ranked 165 in the world. Considering that there are roughly six hundred million people who play chess, being ranked in the top two hundred players worldwide is pretty remarkable. This guy even won a gold medal in the Olympics!

It would be an incredible opportunity for any chess player to spend five weeks learning from this master. My sons’ chess school has hundreds of enrollees, and of that group, only thirty-eight were invited to participate in this elite track. But of those 38, only 17 kids participated. This small group included several kids who had spent their entire scholastic year working towards the goal of getting invited to play and yet their parents didn’t register them.

An opportunity lost.

After the tournament ended, we learned that our grand master has been given a full scholarship to an American university where he will play on its chess team. So, unfortunately for us, our kids only have one more month to learn from him. Yesterday’s class was designed to review the games the kids played at the tournament – to see what they did correctly, what they did wrong, and how they can improve. Of the seventeen kids who participated in the program, only three showed up to class (and two of them were mine) even though this type of exercise is one of the keys to improving your chess skills.

Another opportunity lost.

Of course, the kids have no say in this matter. Their parents are in charge of enrolling them, paying for them, and driving them to activities. Kids only decide whether they like it or not. And to some parents, that’s equally irrelevant because you don’t enroll your child in a sports program, so they make it their career.  After all, it is highly unlikely that your kid is going to be the next Yankee baseball player or prima ballerina or international grand chess master. Instead, you enroll them in sports programs to develop mentally and physically, to entertain them, to explore their talents, to keep them busy, to teach them discipline, and to help them discover their passions.

But this article is not about playing second base for the Yankees or doing plies at the Met. And it’s certainly not about playing chess or becoming a grand master.

This article is about life.

It’s about training.

Sure, the boys learned some good chess techniques with this teacher and their games have improved. But that is the least important of their training.

 What really matters is that they learned that this grand master has been studying chess five hours a day for twenty years. They learned that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, what matters is your progress. They learned that no matter how much higher someone is ranked above you, you can beat them if you play a particular game better than they do. They learned that to succeed you need self-discipline. They learned that their talent only makes up about 20% of their success, the other 80% is consistent dedication, discipline, and hard work. They learned that when you are amongst the best in anything you do, you have more possibilities (like this master who received a full scholarship and room and board for his family at a prestigious university.) These are lessons they can apply to anything they do.

I don’t care if my kids excel in chess or not. I want them to succeed in life.  As “Dilbert” creator, Scott Adams, said, “You can’t control luck, but you can move from a game with bad odds to one with better odds. You can make it easier for luck to find you.”

I know we all want our kids to be successful, which is why I was so surprised to see how few of the kids who enjoy playing chess were allowed to take advantage of this rare chance. Maybe the school didn’t communicate the magnitude of this program effectively or maybe there were some legitimate reasons for some parents not to enroll their child in the program. But regardless of what the reasons were, it reinforced a valuable lesson that I learned a long time ago…

A Moment of Clarity

Successful people are willing to do things that unsuccessful people are not willing to do. And sometimes that simply means showing up.

What Are You Thankful For?

Are you always repeating yourself with your kids?

“Brush your teeth.”

“Comb your hair.”

“Do your homework.”

Sometimes the repetition can be exhausting. But there is actually a reason why we parents have to do this. In order for anyone to learn a new concept or adopt a habit, repetition and consistency is key. It stands to reason that our little ones need this reinforcement – even if we sound like a broken record. Parents often wonder: will it stick?

Parenting is delayed gratification in its truest form.  We invest and invest in our kids, without knowing what the end result is going to be.  And we never really know if we’re doing any of it correctly.

But every once in a while, we are rewarded for our efforts.

I drive my kids every morning either to school or camp. The first thing I do when we’re all buckled in is ask my kids what each of them are grateful for. This is not always easy to do. Sometimes they’re extra cranky because they didn’t sleep enough. Sometimes we’re just recovering from a yelling match because they were fighting or they weren’t cooperating in the morning and I lost it. Mornings with three small boys can be rough. But no matter how frustrating our morning is, I take a deep breath and say, “Okay, what are you thankful for? Who’s going first?”

I want the practice of gratitude to be a part of my sons’ daily routine. And no matter how frustrated or angry we are, I want to teach them that we have the power to change our attitude and our mood at any moment.

There have been days my boys have challenged me.

“We should do this at bedtime, Mom. It’s too early to know if there’s anything to be grateful for,” or

“I don’t have anything to be grateful for.”

And my response is: “Oh, that’s precisely why we do this first thing in the morning. How about saying thank you for being alive, or waking up this morning in our beautiful home, or thanking the universe for our wonderful family and that we’re all healthy? How about being thankful for the sun or for nature or for oxygen? There is so much to be grateful for that has nothing to do with how your day goes.”

Some days it’s easy. Some days it feels like I’m pulling teeth. But day after day, I ask them to express gratitude. And then I leave town.

One of the things I dislike about traveling is the disruption to the routine. It’s that control-freak mom syndrome where you feel like nothing is done correctly unless you’re the one doing it. I’m constantly asking my husband if the kids brushed their teeth or if they made their beds. They have way much more fun with their father! But they are loved and cared for and that’s what matters most. I’ve learned to accept that life is going to look a little different when the enforcer has left the fort.

The last time I was away, the most wonderful thing happened. I left before my kids woke up. When I landed, I called my husband to let him know I’d arrived. He was driving my sons to camp. We were connected via bluetooth so we could all hear each other. We said our usual “I love you” and I miss you” and then I said, “Okay guys, I have to get going so I can request an Uber to the hotel.”

“Mommy, wait!” Justin interrupted hurriedly, “What are you thankful for?”

My heart melted.

It hadn’t occurred to me to have gratitude mornings on the phone! Justin was now the enforcer and all I could think was: Oh my God, it stuck! Justin was even teaching his dad how we do mornings. And the best part of it all, my son sh0wed me that I am there even when I’m not.

“What are you thankful for, Mommy?” He repeated after a few seconds of my silence.

“I’m thankful for you buddy. So thankful for you.”

A Moment of Clarity:

For those of you who are working hard to create meaningful relationships with your kids: Keep doing what you’re doing. Be consistent and repetitious. You may think sometimes that your kids aren’t listening or paying attention. They may not respond immediately, but they are paying attention. When you least expect it, they’ll remind you what an impact you’re making in their lives and how deeply ingrained you are in them…even when you’re not around.  There is no greater reward than that.

The Dentist Visit That Changed A Mom’s Life

Suzy left her husband after enduring an unhappy marriage for 15 years. Angered by her decision, her ex-husband invested all his resources in taking Suzy to court.  Without money for competent counsel, Suzy was beaten by the legal system, leaving her penniless and losing primary custody of her two children.

 The parental plan allowed for the kids to sleepover at Suzy’s house twice a week. But her job was so far from the school the father chose for them that she couldn’t get the kids to school in the morning and be back in time to clock in for work. So the kids had to sleep at their dad’s on her weeknights.

This was a terrible time for Suzy, and by the time she came to see me, she confessed if she’d known she could lose her kids, she would never have gotten a divorce. Here was a woman who loved her children deeply and wanted to have a relationship with them, but her ex-husband constantly sabotaged her efforts and logistics made matters worse.

I began working with Suzy to develop a Be There Even When You’re Not mindset. There were many things she couldn’t control, so we focused on what she could control. She started to show up when she could – surprising her kids at soccer games and school– stopping by even if for a minute to give them a kiss. I told her to schedule a FaceTime call with them every evening before bed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that she didn’t think of FaceTiming them in the evenings but whenever she did, they would end up crying because they missed her. She felt she was doing them more harm by calling.

“At least if I’m out of sight, I’m out of mind,” she’d say, sobbing. But I explained that if she didn’t call, they could confuse that with not caring or remembering them. This was an opportunity for her to reframe the situation. She began finding ways to make the FaceTime call a happy one that they’d look forward to eventually.

And then one day Suzy came to see me and she was as happy as I’d ever seen her.

“You’re never going to believe what happened yesterday,” she said.

“Tell me!” I responded.

“I got a call from my kids’ dentist on Monday asking me to confirm their appointment. I had no idea they even had a dentist appointment. As you know my husband doesn’t tell me anything he does with the kids. I don’t even know how the dentist office got my number but for some reason it was in their records.”

She kept talking faster and faster trying to keep up with the thoughts running through her head.

“So I said, yes, I can confirm the appointment but please give me the date, time and address?” Her eyes lit up.

“I couldn’t be sure they would be going to the appointment or if my ex would forget since they called me for the confirmation. But I decided to risk it and go there to see my kids. So on Wednesday, I took a late lunch from work, and I went to the dentist and sat in the waiting room.”

“Oh my God, what happened? I asked.

“I was so nervous –I could feel my hands trembling. I waited for about ten minutes praying they’d come. Then the door opened and I saw them walk in! They arrived fifteen minutes before their appointment time.”

“What did you do when they walked in?” My heart raced.

“I just smiled and said ‘Surprise!’ They saw me immediately, yelled ‘Mommy,’ and ran over to hug me. ‘What are you doing here?’ they asked. I told them I just wanted to  spend a few minutes with them. They were thrilled! They each sat on either side of me and held my hand and we chit chatted about their day.”

“Was your ex-husband there?” I asked, wondering what kind of reaction he had.

“Yes, he was! He was so shocked to see me that he didn’t react. He just nodded his head, sat on the opposite side of the waiting room and never said a word. When the nurse called their names, I gave them one last kiss and hug and slipped out the door to head back to work. Caroline, it was one of the happiest moments I’ve had in a long time.”

That evening Suzy’s kids were beyond thrilled to get on FaceTime with her and relive the surprise from that afternoon. They told her they got their teeth cleaned and they didn’t have any cavities. Before they were ready to shut the computer off and go to bed, her daughter looked straight into the camera and said “Thanks, Mommy. It was really awesome to see you today.”

Just like that, Suzy stopped being a victim of her circumstances. She started playing by her own rules and showed her ex and her kids that she wasn’t going anywhere. She would do anything and everything to be there for her kids, even if it meant a late lunch, a fifteen minute playdate at the dentist office, and driving both ways.

We’ll never know why the dentist’s office called her instead of their father that day, but let’s just chalk it up to the Universe had her back. She was so very grateful for that.

A Moment of Clarity:

Parental alienation is real and can make it very difficult for a parent to reach their child. But keep trying. Show up in any way you can and let your kids know that you will always be there for them–even if it means popping in for a quick visit at the dentist!