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)

 

 

 

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.

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.

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!

Create meaningful relationships with your kid with this resolution

Let Go of Presumed Resolutions This Year!

January is notorious for increased gym memberships, fasts, diet plans, and energized people ready to tackle the year to come.  We tend to make resolutions that are tangible – like losing weight, exercising, or traveling. And then there are what I call,  “presumed resolutions.” These are resolutions we should make to achieve an intended result, but we leave those results to chance.  For example, I would guess we all want to have meaningful and close relationships with our children, but we assume that happens automatically if we are “good” parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles. Yet, good people don’t always have great relationships with their kids, do they?

I want to share with you a resolution you can implement today that can help you have a meaningful relationship with your child in the years to come. It’s based on a true story.

On December 13, 1979 – five days after I was born – my father sent me a postcard. Yes, only five days after my birth my father had to travel for work. The truth is that I didn’t need my father during my first week of life, nor would I miss him if he were gone. The only thing a baby needs is to be fed, changed, wrapped in a blanket, and loved. My mother was doing a perfectly fine job of caring and loving me, so I didn’t need anyone else.

I did not read that postcard or even know that he sent it until I was 36 years old.

Over the years my father sent me hundreds and hundreds of postcards. Many were thrown away or lost in the mail, but when I was old enough to read them, I would wait for the cards to come in the mail and I collected them in a cardboard box. I loved receiving those cards and even though I didn’t realize it then, it was through those postcards that my father consistently communicated his love for me.

One day my mother came over to my home holding several large, old photo albums. She’d been doing some spring cleaning.

“It’s time for you keep these in your home; I’ve held on to them long enough!” she said handing me the albums. I flipped through the pages, seeing pictures of myself as a baby and little mementos my mom had kept –the hospital card, the hospital bracelet, a little card that came with a bouquet of flowers. And then I saw it, Dad’s First Postcard, preserved for 36 years in a self-adhesive photo page.

building relationships through postcards
I wasn’t surprised to see a postcard from my father, but what I couldn’t believe was how soon he started sending them. Why would he send me something he knew I couldn’t read or appreciate?

My dad knew he’d always be traveling because of his career. He wasn’t going to be physically with me every day, but he wanted to be close to me regardless. He made a promise to send me a postcard from everywhere he went so I would always know he was thinking of me.

My father couldn’t control whether my mom would save the card for me or read it to me when I was older. (Luckily for him– and for me – she did save the card for me.) He couldn’t control whether the card would be lost in the mail or if I would ever know that he sent it. The only thing my father could control was sending the postcard.

That’s the thing about relationships. You cannot predict how the other party will respond. You can’t ensure that the other person will appreciate your efforts or sacrifices. The only thing you can control is your own actions.

So what can you do to create a special relationship with your child this year? Start today. Make a promise to your child you know you can keep. That promise will depend on your personal circumstances. Are you divorced and only see your child every other weekend? Do you live far from away? Do you live with your child but work long hours? Do you travel often?  Is the child a niece or nephew or grandchild?

Call every day. Facetime. Skype. Send a postcard. Send an email. Do whatever works for you … but do it consistently. Don’t worry whether or not your baby is old enough to know the difference. This is as much a promise to yourself.

It doesn’t matter what route you choose or what promise you make as long as the message to the child is clear: I love you.

Don’t leave your relationships with your children to chance. Not this year.  Take control of that which is in your control, regardless of the circumstances. Do that and you’ve already won half the battle.

In the years to come, your children will grow to cherish the promises you make and keep, and they’ll know you will always be with them—even when you’re not

Three Thanksgiving Traditions That Won’t Make You Fat

Thanksgiving is a time when families unite to give thanks for our blessings and eat too much. But we can’t always be with the people we love on this special day. Your family may be out of town and you can’t visit them this year. You may alternate where holidays are spent— “One year with your family and the next with mine.” You may be divorced and your child is spending Thanksgiving with your ex. Maybe you are celebrating this special day with your family but a special someone you’re grateful for will not be with you. Or perhaps your employees deserve a big “thanks” for all they do at work.

Here are three Thanksgiving traditions meant to strengthen relationships and express gratitude for the important people in your life … without affecting your waist line.

1. Send a postcard

Nowadays, people have so many forms of communication available. Cell phones and computers make it easier than ever to stay in touch. Yet sending a postcard is special. For one, we are not used to receiving cards in the mail anymore so when we do receive one, it’s a novelty. If that card happens to say something like “I’m so grateful to have you in my life,” it is a gift. A postcard requires a little more effort than a text message or an email, which make your person feel special. Finally, a postcard allows you to write things that may be hard to say in person. Writing something loving on a postcard makes connecting easier. And they can keep it forever.

2. Use cards as party favors

Hosting a Thanksgiving celebration? Here’s a way to give your dinner meaning and purpose. Give each guest a card or postcard and ask them to write down what they are grateful for this year. One year we had our kids write a card to each of our family members expressing why they were grateful for that person. My family loved receiving their cards, and the kids loved giving them. Or make a game out of it and put all your guests’ names in a hat. Have each person pick out a random name and write something kind about them. Your Thanksgiving dinner will be remembered fondly as a day of gratitude and love.

3. Use postcards to create a grateful company culture

Home is not the only place for gratitude. Managers, employees, and leaders all need a pat on the back from time to time. Thanksgiving is a good time to create a company culture that expresses gratitude. Place a box of postcards in one location of the office or give everyone their own set. Send postcards to your employees thanking them for the work they do. Encourage employees to send postcards to each other when one helps another or solves a problem. Tell your boss you are grateful for letting you come in to work late so you can see your child’s award ceremony, or thank him for giving you good feedback.

It is always a good time to send a postcard to let people know you’re grateful for them. Make this Thanksgiving extra special with these simple traditions. I wish you a wonderful holiday. And THANK YOU for reading this post.