The Middle Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Moment of Clarity

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

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.

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.

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.)