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.

 

 

Accepting Responsibility

In life, you must take responsibility for what happens to you. There are some events in life that we can control, and others that we cannot. We definitely cannot control other people or their behavior. But we can control ourselves. Through our example, we will be respected by others and will influence them as a result. How to Survive Among Piranhas

Last week I encountered a rough patch with my husband. He’d been in an unpleasant mood and seemed generally unhappy with me. I didn’t know why, so I pointed it out.

“Orlando you’re cranky and unpleasant lately and it’s no fun being around you,” I said, expecting him to apologize and readjust.

“Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t think you’ve been acting like a very good wife, lately,” he said matter of factly.

Immediately my brain went into defense mode: What? How could you possibly think I’m not a good wife? I live for you! 

But that’s not what I told him. Instead, I asked, “Why would you say that?”

“Because you’ve watched me drowning with the move and trying to run my business and you’ve done nothing to help. You know I can’t stand things being incomplete and yet you know I have frames on the floor, I’m missing furniture, and you don’t care.”

Let me tell you the backstory:

Orlando moved offices a couple of weeks ago. You know how many moving parts go into a move. Foreseeing how stressful this was going to be and knowing that neither Orlando nor I are good at or enjoy decorating or shopping, (he’s better at it than I am, actually),  I suggested we hire our girlfriend who is an interior designer to decorate the office. Sure, it would cost us more money but it’d be done quickly and beautifully. Orlando refused.  “It’s a small office, not our home,” he said. He didn’t think it was necessary to spend additional money on an interior designer. I knew he was wrong, so I figured: Well, if that’s how you feel then you can do it yourself. 

As I suspected, I’d seen him struggling with choosing a desk and furniture, what color to paint the office,  what to hang on the walls and what to put where. But I had an I told you so attitude because this wouldn’t have happened if he’d listened to me.

And now he was angry with me.

I started to defend myself, “Orlando, I told you we needed to hire an interior decorator and all of this would’ve been avoided.”

He didn’t back down, “I needed YOU.”

The truth is that my husband does a lot for our family. He runs a very demanding criminal law practice, buys groceries for our home, cooks dinner almost every night, and helps a lot with the kids. He’s been supportive of my giving up my law practice to focus on my writing and speaking career. He needed to feel that I had his back, like he has mine.

The next day I stepped up to the plate. I put my pride aside, took responsibility, and focused on helping my husband finish his office so he could work in peace. I spent the next week doing everything I could to relieve stress and move things along. It wasn’t all smooth, but what matters is that my husband saw that I listened, I understood, and I took action.

Why am I sharing this uncomfortable story with you?

Because our argument could’ve gone another way. I could’ve been insulted and pointed out all that I do for our family. I could’ve maintained my position that I was right and he was wrong. I could’ve accused him of being unreasonable and unfair and searched through my mental rolodex for times I felt let down by him. That’s what we often do in the heat of the moment, don’t we? We search for the reasons we’re right, we stand our ground, and we aim to win the argument at whatever cost.

I was raised in a family that’s full of divorces, so logic suggests that my marriage would fail. But so far, we’ve maintained a healthy, strong marriage. I attribute my part of our success to the principles I’ve been learning my entire life.

I was grateful that my husband was honest and open about his feelings in a stressful time, instead of silently building resentment towards me. We often want our spouses to read our minds and fix their behavior without us having to tell them what’s bothering us. But that’s a recipe for disaster. I didn’t really know how much it upset my husband that I wasn’t involved in this project.  Once he told me what he felt, I stopped talking and adjusted my behavior. I accepted responsibility.

For years, I sat in the front row of my father’s seminars hearing him deliver speeches and workshops. I must’ve heard him tell his Ghandi story on accepting responsibility a thousand times. The more you listen, read, and study a set of principles, the more they are ingrained in your cells, becoming a part of who you are.

In this case, I couldn’t control how my husband felt. The only thing I could control was how I reacted to his feelings. I looked inward and changed my behavior.  The marriage thrives.

And so it goes in love and life.

A Moment of Clarity

Invest in your personal development. Read, study, listen, over and over again. Before you know it, these skills will help you thrive in your relationships, and your life.

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!

 

Sliding Door Moments

Sliding Doors is a movie that highlights how life can be changed instantly by something so trivial as missing the subway.

Think about the little decisions or coincidences that led to where you are now. How I met my husband is an example.

I was a law school student having dinner with my girlfriends. As we walked down Lincoln Road toward our car, we had a chance encounter with Melissa. Melissa had recently graduated from our law school, and she said she was working at the Public Defender’s Office. Eagerly, I mentioned, “I’m interning there this summer!”

“Listen,” she said. “When you get to orientation, they’re going to ask what department you prefer. Choose Domestic Violence; that’s where I am. The supervisors are great, and you’ll get real trial experience.”

Weeks later I wrote “DV” on my intake sheet. My request was granted.

On my first day on the job, I was standing in the hallway when Orlando walked through the door. He was one of the attorneys in that very small division. I didn’t like him right away. He didn’t like me either. But we spent several months working together, became friends, and on the last day of my internship, he asked me out.

We’d been dating casually for a couple of weeks when one day we stopped by his mom’s house. She’d asked him to pick up some of his things. He poked around inside the box and took out a children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. His mom had bought it for him after he took a children’s literature class in college. He flipped through the pages of the book, reading some of the passages aloud, and discussing its beauty with his mom. As I watched Orlando’s interaction with his mom and his love of that book, I thought: “This guy is going to be a great dad one day.” I visualized him reading to my future children and teaching them about literature, which is ironic because I wasn’t even thinking about having kids at that time. Just like that, I saw him with new eyes. He was no longer a friend I enjoyed spending time with; he was the kind of man I wanted to marry.

Eleven years and three children later, I still remember that moment and how wise I was for choosing him to be my life partner. But I couldn’t have made that choice had I not run into Melissa on the street that random day; or taken her advice to request that department; or spent enough time with Orlando to develop our friendship.  Each detail, seemingly unimportant, was significant in its own right and led us to create this imperfectly perfect life together.

A Moment of Clarity: 

Opportunities pop up. If you pay attention, you will find they fall into your life like chains of dominoes. Life doesn’t happen to you by chance. Notice, take advantage of, and be grateful for those sliding door moments.  Life is richer for them.

Surviving Summer

It had been one of those days. Monday. Ely wanted the day to be fun for her three girls. She planned to get up early and get out of the house to enjoy the day. Maybe go to the park or somewhere fun to play. But Ely couldn’t get her act together. In fact, she couldn’t get past breakfast. She wanted the girls to have a healthy breakfast – but the kitchen isn’t her strong suit. The girls hated the smoothie she made and refused to drink it.  Cindy, her two-year-old, knocked the smoothie down to the floor in one of her crying fits. Bella, the five-year-old, hit Sammy, the three-year-old, and took her toy. They each ate a few bites of the pumpkin oatmeal pancakes Ely made, but it certainly wasn’t worth the mess she’d made in the kitchen.

Somehow it was noon and the girls were still in pajamas. Ely was in pajamas. The house looked like a hurricane hit it and her husband hates to come from work and find the house messy. Oh, and the girls were hungry. Of course they were, they barely ate breakfast. 

And then Ely checked her phone.

All the school moms were posting on the group chat what their kids were doing this week.

Suzy was in gymnastics camp. Christy was in acting camp. Lily was having a blast in nature camp. Ely had debated whether to put her girls in specialty camps this summer but since she works three days a week, she preferred to keep her girls home on her two off-days so they could spend time together. Only the summer camp at her daughter’s school would allow her to bring the girls three times a week.

Mia’s mom had also kept Mia home this week. She was posting pics of the scavenger hunt she’d set up in her backyard and the healthy snacks she’d prepared for her daughter. Mia loves all the healthy foods her mom makes. After lunch, they were going to do some school work so Mia is ready for First grade.

Ely was still trying to get the girls to brush their teeth.

Ely sat for a moment on her sofa, watching her little girls run around with disheveled hair and half naked. She felt completely defeated.

I totally suck as a mom.

Not only were her kids stuck at home instead of a “cool” camp, but she couldn’t even manage to do something fun at home like the other mom.

How do they do it?  She thought as her mind went into a downward spiral.

Why am I such a disaster?

I can’t even take care of myself. I don’t exercise. I’m tired all the time.

My kids give me a hard time about everything.

I can’t get it together. 

She spent hours beating herself up, as she picked up the kitchen, put the girls down for nap, fed them lunch, and played with them.

After a very long and brutal day, the girls were bathed and in bed. Ely was laying with Bella reading her a bedtime story. “Ok baby girl,”she said “It’s time for you to go to sleep. Tomorrow you get to go to camp and have fun.”

Bella sat up straight on the bed. “But mommy, I don’t want to go to camp tomorrow.”

“Why not, Bella?”

“Mommy, I just want to be with you.”

Ely couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Bella, you rather stay home with me and do nothing than go to camp with your friends?”

“Yes, mommy. I love being home with you.”

Ely couldn’t hold back the tears. All day she’d beaten herself up for not being as perfect as the other moms, who all seemed to be mothering better than she was. She’d stressed about all the things she wasn’t doing this summer and all the while her daughters got exactly what they wanted. Time with their mommy. 

A friend of mine who has older kids told me once, “I used to think my kids needed quality time with me, but I’ve realized they just want time with me.”

We all have a little Ely in us. We set such high standards for ourselves and we judge ourselves and beat ourselves up for not doing everything perfect. But those are not the standards our kids are holding us too. They don’t need all that. Actually, what they need is so simple.

So next time you’re down in the dumps about how badly you’re failing at this parenting thing – remember Ely.  Give yourself a break. You’re doing the best you can and that’s okay!

A Moment Of Clarity

Don’t worry so much about giving your kids a magical experience this summer. You are the magic.

Permission To Live

One of the biggest rewards I’ve received since I started sharing my message of How to Be There Even When You’re Not has been to hear the stories of how other people experience this message.

Be There Even When You’re Not is a movement I’ve created to help people maintain special and meaningful relationships in their lives. It means that you can be present in the lives of the people you care about the most, even if you’re not physically present. It doesn’t matter if you live far away, travel often or work long hours. You can always show the people you love that you’re there for them, thinking of them, and partnering with them in their lives. One of ours tools is The Postcard Promise – where people send postcards to their kids or loved ones from anywhere they are in the world. As you will see, postcards can come in many forms, and so can being there even when you’re not.

Today I want to share Mario’s story with you.

Mario’s wife, Blanca, died of cancer when she was only 55 years old.  With the kids grown, Mario was left alone in their home and completely devastated.

Mario would have to learn how to navigate throughout life without his life partner.

We tend to connect suffering with love. Like my grandparents who were married for 47 years, we’re taught that the more we mourn, the more we love. For twenty years after my grandfather’s death, my grandmother wore black to show the world she was mourning. I’ve come to realize that my grandmother was telling the world that she still loved my grandfather–and that they had the greatest love of all. 

Could Mario miss, remember, and love Blanca but still find happiness? That answer came to Mario in a beautiful way:

Blanca loved Post-it notes and left them scattered all over their home. Months after Blanca passed, Mario randomly found three simple words written on one of Blanca’s Post-it notes.

Keep Celebrating Christmas.

Blanca loved Christmas and always celebrated it to the fullest. Since Blanca died, Mario felt that Christmas had died for him, too.  But Blanca’s message gave Mario permission to celebrate. In fact, she gave him more than permission; she gave him a direct order!

Blanca’s Post-it note told Mario that she didn’t want him to remember her with tears. It told him that he didn’t have to wear black for twenty years. Instead, Blanca told him to honor her through faith, celebration, laughter, and joy … even though he would always miss her.

By giving Mario permission to celebrate, Blanca gave him permission to live.

Mario kept finding Post-it notes around the house. Mario even started joking that his wife wouldn’t leave him alone! Each note reminded Mario that Blanca was still with him, even though she was no longer physically present.

A Moment of Clarity:

There is power in writing to your loved ones.  They may forget what you said, but they can always read what you wrote. And, because of  the mysterious workings of the universe, your message will appear exactly when they need a reminder that you’re there. Even when you’re not.

 

Be There … Even If Only Through A Window

When I was a little girl, I learned a lesson that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life– that parents can have meaningful relationships with their children despite the obstacles life puts in their way.

I was 9 years old. My parents were divorced and this was my weekend to be home with Mom. We spent the day working on my closet. My mother and father were both disorganized but disorganized in very different ways so I guess I inherited a “double genetic dose” as a result! 

My father’s spaces were always cluttered. There wasn’t a corner or crevice in his home that didn’t contain a book, magic trick, or cherished memento. But, no matter how much stuff there was, he knew where everything he needed was… his financial papers, his work documents, and his books. Within his mess there was order

On the other hand, my mother’s home looked impeccable, but she never knew where anything was! Her approach was to put everything in boxes and line them up so everything looked neat. Then she planned to go through the boxes to see what to keep and what to toss later. But with three children to raise, “later” rarely came.
Mom and I sat cross legged on the floor, stuffing my stuff in boxes and placing them in rows, hanging up all my clothes, lining up my shoes and lovingly placing my dolls and their clothes in boxes. It had been a long day but the result was worth it. I was proud!

The phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hi mi amor!” My dad said, enthusiastically.

“Hi dad!” 

I was always excited to hear my dad’s voice, but today I couldn’t wait to share my accomplishments.

“How are you? How was your day?” he asked. 

“Great Dad! Guess what we did.” 

“What?” he matched my excitement.

“My mom and I organized my closet! I have all my toys in pretty boxes. My clothes and shoes are all neat. It looks awesome!”

My voice changed when I remembered the rules. See, I had a stepdad and he didn’t allow my dad to come into my house. My mom (who is an angel)  had to deal with his tough personality. One of the accommodations she made was to get me my own private phone line so my dad and I could talk whenever we wanted.

“I wish you could see it, Dad, but I know you can’t come into my house.” 

Hearing the sadness in my voice, Dad responded, “My love, I wish I could see it too but I’m sure it looks great. Tell me more about it.”

I was a little girl living in a different home than her father did, a little girl who wanted him to be there with her when he couldn’t be. It wasn’t fair! I didn’t ask my parents to get divorced. And I didn’t understand why my dad couldn’t come in my house. But I wasn’t one to nag so I tried to let it go. 

We chatted a little while longer and then my dad said, “Ok mi amor, you’ve got school tomorrow so you need to get ready for bed. Sleep with the angels, my love. I will call you tomorrow.”

“Okay daddy, goodnight.” 

“Love you!” (My dad always ended a conversation with an “I love you”.)

“I love you too.”

I showered, brushed my teeth, pulled on my pajamas, kissed my mom goodnight, and headed back to my room to watch TV.

Suddenly there was a tap on my window. It freaked me out, actually. I stood on my bed and leaned over my headboard to peer out. There was a face staring back at me! I didn’t know whether to scream or run. But then I recognized my father’s large hand waving from side to side and zoomed in on his unmistakable smile.

I pulled up the blinds and opened the window. 

“Dad, what are you doing here?” 

He chuckled, “Just because I can’t come in your house doesn’t mean I can’t see your closet. Come on, show me!”

I jumped out of bed, slid the closet doors open, and showed my dad all my orderly boxes, tidy clothes and neat shoes a la Vanna White. Smiling, he gave his signature” thumbs up!”

I jumped back on my bed, stood on my tippy toes and pressed my lips against the screen. Dad pressed his lips against the screen on the other side and gave me a kiss. “I love you, mi cielo. And, I love your closet. Now get to sleep so you can rest.” 

Happy, I closed my window, let down the blinds, climbed into bed and drifted off to sleep. It had only taken thirty seconds for Dad to see my closet through the window, but the memory of his being there for me, in that moment, will be etched in my heart forever.

A MOMENT OF CLARITY

Divorce doesn’t have to destroy your relationships with your kids. You may have to show up in creative ways. You may have to overcome some obstacles. But you can always Be There Even When You’re Not.

Bold Conversations, Funerals, & A Bright Yellow Dress

Yany was ten years old when her Cuban grandma, Abuela Fifi, began taking her to the cemetery. An only child with working parents, Yany spent a lot of time doing “old people” things like going to the doctor and running errands. But by far, Yany’s favorite outing with her grandma was their monthly trip to the cemetery.

Yes, the cemetery.

Yany didn’t understand why grandma would drive to the burial ground office to deliver a check once a month. They would engage in this brief transaction and then be on their way.

Then came the best part:

Yany would beg Abuela Fifi to drive around the plots.  Moving at a snail’s pace, Abuela Fifi would lower the windows as Yany read the names on the tombstones and created elaborate stories about the peoples lives.

“Oh look, that’s Maria Victoria! She was a beautiful singer, and she loved to wear polkadot dresses.” Yany would proclaim. Grandma would smile and move on to the next plot. “Fernando! Fernando was a grouch. You know he didn’t even like talking to his neighbors.”

Plot after plot, Yany and grandma visited real people and told stories of their pretend lives. Children are like that. They don’t need much to spark their creativity. They can make believe, tell stories, create drama and humor, conflict and triumph – and do it effortlessly. They don’t care if it makes sense or not; it’s just fun.

One day, Abuela Fifi encountered a situation that got her thinking. Her granddaughter loved the cemetery. She willingly accompanied her month after month, but she knew nothing about the reality of why they were going. Abuela was a powerful woman who believed in telling children the truth about life. Though she loved to indulge Yany, she also wanted to prepare, educate, and guide her.  So on the next trip to the cemetery, she decided to have a very honest and bold conversation about what this all meant.

“Yany, do you know why we come here and why I write a check and hand it to the gentleman at the desk?” she asked gently.

“No.” Yany shrugged, eager to get to storytime.

“Well, the reason I write a check is because I am paying for my funeral arrangements. You see, I am going to die one day and the tombs we drive around looking at… there will be one for me.” Yany’s eyes opened wide.  Abuela put her arm around her and said “You don’t have to be scared. Death is part of life. We all die. And though this is the place I’ve chosen for my body to rest, I will not be here.

“Where will you be?” Yany asked.

Oh,  I will be with God, and in your heart and mind. I will always be with you, even though you won’t be able to see me anymore.”

Abuela Fifi was inspired even though Yany was nervous. They were sitting on a couch in the lobby of the funeral home and surrounding them were different rooms where viewings were being held.  Abuela Fifi stood up and grabbed Yany’s hand. “You see that room? There is a coffin in there with a person who has died in it. Walk on over and look inside. You should see what a dead person looks like so you are never afraid of death. Go on.” Yany looked into the room and saw lots of people dressed in black gathered together. “Abuela, I don’t want to go in there.”

Abuela smiled, “Come on, Yany, you have nothing to be afraid of, go on in. You can do it.” 

“But Abuela, I’m not scared; I’m embarrassed. I’m wearing a bright yellow dress!”

Even at ten, Yany could sense that she wasn’t dressed appropriately. “Oh, that doesn’t matter. Go ahead, Yany. It’ll just take a minute.” Yany hesitated, but she walked up to the coffin in her bright yellow dress, peeked inside, counted to ten, and ran back to her grandmother.  

Abuela waited for her with open arms, “There. It’s done. You’ve seen a dead person. You no longer have to be afraid. The day I die, you will remember this moment and you will know it is only my body in that casket and not my soul. And don’t come visit me at my tombstone when I die because I won’t be there. Make sure you visit me while I’m still alive! Now let’s go drive around the cemetery so you can tell me all about the different people.” 

Now you may be thinking that Abuela Fifi was insane. You could be judging her for exposing a ten year old to such morbid realities, or comparing her to how your grandma would’ve handled the situation. Regardless of how you feel about what Abuela Fifi did, Yany learned a lot from this experience. 

She became aware at a young age that life is fleeting and temporary, and therefore you must embrace it.

Through the stories she told abut the names on the tombstones, she learned to value her imagination. As adults, too many of us lose our ability to make believe and be creative. Ironically, adulthood is when we need creativity the most. Try making up creative stories about real people. You may find a storyteller lives deep within you. Use that gift.

She learned that in life you have to be pragmatic. There is no use in sugar-coating things or hiding truths, even with kids. Knowledge gives you the power to make informed decisions, think for yourself, and overcome obstacles with courage.

She learned the importance of confronting life with humor. This story offers just one example of Abuela Fifi’s wackiness. The old lady is simply funny. Funny makes life easier and lighter.  It makes hard things easier to swallow. When Abuela Fifi is no longer here, Yany will laugh whenever she retells her grandma’s stories, and, let’s face it, there’s no better way to remember someone than with a smile.

Lastly, Yany learned to shine. There will be times in life when you will not be dressed appropriately, you won’t fit in with the crowd, or you will be the only one standing up for something you believe in. There will be times when you’ll look like a fool and want the Earth to swallow you. You may feel like you’re wearing a bright yellow dress at a funeral.  You’ll be afraid. You’ll be embarrassed. But you’ll get through it.  

And then there will be times of tragedy and of grief – maybe in your circle, or your community, or the world.  Times when it will feel like you’re navigating in black seas. During those times, I want you to think of that same bright yellow dress. I want you to wear it. I want you to be the light that shines in the darkness, like Yani did that day. It takes courage and confidence to wear yellow when everyone around you is wearing black. Like Abuela Fifi would say “Go on little one, there is nothing to be afraid of.” 

(Abuela Fifi’s tombstone has long been paid for, but she is still alive and probably reading this blog post laughing at how crazy she was back then. Yany visits her often and is thankful for all the time she’s had with her.)

meaningful relationships

When the Party Ends

I recently officiated a wedding ceremony for the very first time. When I heard the news that my husband’s cousin had asked me to preside over her ceremony, I was honored. I told my husband I would need to become a notary public, to which he responded “I’ve been meaning to become one as well. I might as well get it done.” That gave me an idea.

“What if we both married her?”

After all, my husband adores his cousin. It felt so symbolic for the two of us—who have an extraordinary marriage—to pass the torch to this young couple.

We completed the requirements to become notary publics and prepared for the ceremony. As the day approached, there was so much we wanted to say—so much advice to impart, but the couple was clear about what they wanted at their wedding: “Keep it short, sweet, and fun.” The ceremony was being held outdoors and the wedding day was cold and windy by Florida standards. The bridesmaids’ dresses were sleeveless and the couple wanted to be considerate of them and all the guests.We obeyed. The ceremony was short, sweet, and funny.

One of my favorite moments was the sand tradition. The bride and groom each took a vase with a different colored sand. They poured the sand from each of their individual vases into one vase as a symbol of their union.

Even though the ceremony and reception were beautiful, the real marriage begins when the party ends. It is in the years to come that the words “I do” actually mean something. Though I am not a marriage expert, I felt compelled to share what little I know about it with the newlyweds. This is my open letter to them:

Dear Amanda & AJ,

Thank you for trusting Orlando and me to lead your wedding ceremony and participate in the exchange of your vows. We are thrilled to see how much you love each other and how excited you were about tying the knot. As I said at the ceremony, it takes two extraordinary people to make an extraordinary marriage, and you both have that foundation. But even the happiest couples face challenges. Please accept these unconventional nuggets of wisdom I have gained over the years from a person who was raised through lots of divorces and who’s maintained a special marriage for over a decade.

Seek Therapy. When Orlando and I were newlyweds, we had an argument and I told him we needed to go to therapy. He didn’t understand why. Couples argue and they get over it. But I insisted, and he acquiesced. After our first therapy session, we got into our car and I started crying. Looking at me like I was crazy, Orlando asked “Why are you crying? The therapist just told us there is nothing wrong with our marriage and we don’t have to go back to see her!” It may sound crazy to you, also, but that was why I was crying. My parents divorced and so did my husband’s. I knew that the odds of us divorcing were high. And I understood that little problems become big problems when you don’t have the tools to handle them adequately. I wasn’t looking for a therapist to tell me my marriage was “fine.” I was looking for a therapist who would give us the tools to handle conflicts and differences. If you wait until your marriage is broken and then try to fix it, all you’re doing is making the climb steeper. Orlando and I didn’t go back to that therapist, but we tried others over the years until we found one who understood why we were there and what we needed. We don’t go to therapy often, but whenever we need help communicating, we make an appointment. Our therapist gives us a neutral space to discuss our feelings and find solutions, and we are stronger for it. Preventative therapy is a powerful tool that helps us stick together—keep your therapist on speed dial.

Be Friends; Have Friends. It’s wonderful to know that your relationship began as a friendship. It is important to share common interests with your spouse, laugh together, and enjoy each other’s company. It is equally important, however, to have other friends. One of things that has helped me in my relationship is the knowledge that no one person can fill your every need. Different people in your life fill different needs, and that’s ok. Why put unrealistic expectations on your partner? You may love to run, but what if your spouse is a tennis player, or a couch potato? Asking your spouse to be your accountability partner as you train for a marathon will be unduly burdensome. Having a running friend or group will help you fill that need without forcing your spouse to do something they don’t want to do. There are certain needs that only a spouse should fill (you know what those are), but outside friends make your life fuller and happier. Embrace this and enjoy it by building your marriage on trust. This will allow you to be grateful for the things your spouse does to enrich your life, instead of focusing on the things they don’t.

Marry the family. When you marry your spouse, you marry their family—their parents, siblings, and family members. Treat them with the same love and respect you do your spouse, and do your best to unite your families. When you treat your spouse’s family this way, you create a loving environment where everyone can thrive. But when they feel torn between you and their own family, everyone loses. In the case of blended families like yours, you marry the children from your spouse’s first marriage and it even means you marry their ex.  Why? Because coordinating events, pickups, drop-offs, holidays, and decisions about the children will always involve their other parent. You can’t control how the other parent will behave toward you, but you can control your actions. Be kind. Be inclusive. Be accommodating. Be respectful—even when its’ hard. Likewise, set boundaries, establish clear expectations, and demand respect as you do with your spouse. Ideally, all relationships should function this way.

Love Yourself. You already know you have to love your spouse; that’s a given. It’s easy for us to get lost in loving our partner and our kids; we want to make sure our family is cared for and protected. But it is much harder to love ourselves. You may find that you don’t have time to exercise or get a massage or take a dance class that you love. Life’s no longer just about you so you’ll make sacrifices for your family. But the biggest gift you can give your spouse and kids is to love yourself, also. You’ll be happier, healthier, and more fun. Eat well, exercise, nurture your mind and soul, do things you love. If you have an issue like anger management or addiction or anything else that can be destructive to you or your family, get help. When you love yourself, you allow the best of you to show up for everyone else—and they deserve the best of you as much as you do.

Be There. Living in the same house does not mean you are present. And yet you can be there even when you’re not physically there. Maybe one or both of you work long hours or travel often. You’ll have the kids half the time and the other half you won’t. Whether it’s with the kids or with each other, you will deal with the complications of being separated. Decide that every day you will communicate love to each other and to the kids. When you are together, be together. Spend time with each other. Talk about your day. Kiss often. Hug. Eat dinner together. Say, “I love you.” When you are apart, call each other. Surprise each other. Send postcards. Say, “I love you” again. These daily promises create unbreakable family bonds—and that will make all the difference.

As time goes by, you will evolve and change and go through different phases. Like the sand from your ceremony, your marriage will be messy and a combination of both of you. But the key is that you always keep the vase intact.  Keep it safe and the sand will always be together, like you two. Wishing you a lifetime of blessings and love.

With love, Caroline

What about you? What advice would you give these newlyweds? Please post your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any couples you think would benefit from this post, please click share!