Monday, December 30, 2013

13 Lessons Learned in 2013

I have to say, since first doing this two years ago, I actually look forward to this end of the year post. I think about it for about a month; various things that I have learned, relearned or continued to learn over the last year. I usually do this while I'm driving, so, of course, I ultimately forget most of them. Last week, I got smart and wrote them into the memo app on my phone. I'm pretty sure this is an accurate assessment of the last 12 months in terms of lessons learned. Enjoy or's up to you.

13. Saying no is hard, yet necessary.

While my family may whole heartedly disagree, I have an incredibly hard time saying no to people. Part of it is the belief that I can, in fact, do it all. The other part is feeling like I have to do it all. But I can't. And I don't have to. I think you grow into the understanding that all of that "yessing" is ultimately saying no to yourself. And I am sick of saying no to myself. So, I'm working on this one.

12. There is a generation gap. And sometimes, I don't get it.

There is a point in your early 30's that you begin to see glimpses of a new world that lives in younger people that you know absolutely nothing about. And by the time you hit your early 40's, it becomes a full-on generation gap. And it's shocking. I've actually done quite a bit of studying and lecturing on this phenomenon because it explains so many of the psychological concepts that I teach. While many things that the younger folks do is part naiveté, part lack of frontal lobe development, a great deal of what they do is influenced by the world they grew up in. Today's people under 30 have never lived without the instant gratification of the internet. And it bleeds into everything they do and colors their entire world view. I start every semester reviewing my "technology free zone" policy in the classroom by telling my class, "I lived for 31 years without a cell phone. You can live for an hour and a half. I promise." And 15 weeks later, I'm still saying the same thing. Because, their world view says that they can't. It also tells them they are special because they were born. And that information should be offered, not earned. And it's annoying as shit. And I don't get it.

11. The universe gives you signs.

Call it a cosmic shift, a sign from God, or as my brother so eloquently referred to it as "going with the flow". You will have moments that the slightest event will tell you something about where to go next. This is how I ended up back in school, falling into working with kids with autism and in a variety of jobs in my life. Listen to those little signs. They will define your life.

10. I have finally recovered from the post traumatic stress called high school.

In 2013, I did something that I never believed I'd do. I went to my 25th high school reunion. I didn't believe I'd do it because, until 2013, I had no desire to. There are many reasons why I didn't want to revisit these awkward years but the biggest one was that it always felt like it was too soon. For 24 years, it felt like it was too early to face demons that I think haunt a lot of people. We spend our entire adolescence (and most of our 20's and 30's)trying to define who we are. Some of us try on personalities for the day and then take them off. Some of us hold on really tight to who we thought we were when we were 15. And those people are often pricks (Just sayin'). But here's the 17 or 18 years old, we all split up and go on and live completely different lives. Unfortunately, we don't get to make right all of the wrongs we did to people we barely knew. And those wrongs get written on the core of who we are trying to become. So, why in the hell would we want to go back there? Facebook changed and softened my opinions on a lot of people years later but for others, it really just confirmed what I already knew. I have made many new high school friends through Facebook. And got rid of some others. I did, in fact, thoroughly enjoyed my reunion, which was shocking in itself. And I also received a drunken apology from someone I barely knew in high school who regretted not trying to get to know me 25 years ago. It appears I'm not the only one with a touch of the "ptsd"....

9. Affordable Health Care may have its flaws, but something has to give.

This is my rare political statement. Then again, I don't consider the right to medical care a political issue. It's a human right. End of story.

8. I like to see people do well.

Distantly related to my ptsd reunion post but on a more global scale, I actually take great joy in seeing people do well in life. I love that people I grew up with have gone on to do really interesting, great things. And I am not referring to money. I am referring to finding something they love and running with it. It makes me happy.

7. Sometimes you have to close doors.

I'm not talking about the doors in your house or on your car. I'm referring to the doors that keep you from moving on in life. And I personally suck at this. I hate closing doors. I'm sure it's deep seeded in my childhood and has some Freudian explanation that I haven't thoroughly explored. I am getting better at it, though.

6. Everyone should go somewhere warm when it is cold out.

I CANNOT wait to leave this artic freeze for warmer weather. I really hate the cold. This is no secret. And I've decided that I'm not going to suffer through another, long, cold and lonely winter without jumping on a jet plane and sunning myself while wearing 50spf. Because I bust my ass. And I deserve it.

5. I am perfectly content to do nothing.

I recently heard someone say that most people stay busy because they are afraid of being with themselves. Meaning, can you tolerate the silence in your head long enough to hear what it has to say? And while I may spend a little too much time listening to what is going on in my head, I am of the opinion that most people can't even fathom the idea.

4. Watching your kid grow up can be a joy, a terror and sad all at the same time.

I have never had so many emotions simultaneously assault my soul as when I watch Max experience something for the first, last or 10,000 time. I am so incredibly proud of the person he is growing up to be and often wonder how it is even possible that he has made it this far in life relatively unscathed. A little part of me dies inside every time he gives me his forehead when I ask for a kiss or when I watch him edit himself in order to "fit in". He has taught me more in 11 years than I learned in the 31 before. I am forever grateful.

3. I am capable of having the puberty/sex talk.

This is huge. Because I did not think I would survive the talk. I painstakingly researched the best books while my child harassed me for days demanding this vital information. I truly believed I would sidetrack him with a simple book on body odor and body hair and that this possibly would buy me days. It bought me about 30 minutes. And when we hit the chapter titled "Let's talk about sex", I believed that oxygen was leaving the room. I literally could not speak. I turned to Max and said "Are you sure you are ready for this?" He appeared so unmoved by this monumental moment when he calmly said yes. I will say I prefaced the sex part by explaining that it was more than a physical act; it was a commitment. Then I just started reading and didn't stop until it was over. His only question when I was done was "How did you ever trust anyone again after Mark (my ex-husband)?" I had done my job.

2. Grief doesn't go away. It just changes.

Grief has defined much of my life, starting with the death of my father in 1982. It became overwhelming when I lost my brother 4 1/2 years ago and was complicated by the death of my mother almost 3 years ago. I live with it every day but it has become more integrated and has taken on a resiliency in my life that wasn't there 5 years ago. There is a lesson in every loss.

1. Third list....still liking my life.

For the 3 year in a row, I can say that I really do like my life. Of course, it's not perfect but I embrace my imperfections (kinda). Liking my life doesn't mean I am completely content or that I don't want better things for myself. It just means that I realize that I am lucky to have good family, good friends, good food and an occasional good wine (or vodka) in my life.

I wish you all a Happy 2014!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

How Working in the Restaurant Business Changed My Life

The old saying goes, "We are a product of our history". Or maybe it doesn't. Maybe, I just made that up. But if it's not an old saying, it should be. Because it's true.

A big part of my history is having had the pleasure, honor and experience of working in the restaurant business. While I realize for many, the restaurant biz is a stop on a proverbial train called life, for others, this is a career choice. And for many years, I made that choice.

My life in the restaurant business was as formative as my early childhood. It was part of the path that has led me to where I am right now; propped up in my bed with the football game on and a laptop on my lap. As a 15 year old girl, I marched my ass into the Kennett Square Inn (actually, my mother drove me there but that's besides the point) and became part of a family. A family I still have today.

There is something so unique about the experience of working along side a cast of characters that would have never crossed your path had you not walked in that door. Because that's what a restaurant is...a cast of characters you'd find in a sitcom or a drama or a reality show. It is all of those things.

People who have not had this experience cannot appreciate the conditions you work under. The stress is immediate and at times, overwhelming. You will rise to the occasion or you will fall apart. I've done both.

You will be a giver, and receiver of insults unimaginable. And then you will have a drink together and forget what it was that you were fighting about. You may even dodge sharp instruments coming at you at a very high rate of speed. You may walk out. And then come back later to find that someone stepped in because the rest of the world doesn't care that you are having a nervous breakdown. Someone needs to get the Chateaubriand to Table 12.

While the majority believes that Happy Hour starts at 5pm, you know that, in fact, it actually starts at 11pm. And while the general population braves the crowds on Fridays and Saturdays, you know that Sundays are by far, the best night of the week to be out. And even if you retire from the business, you still feel lost on a Friday or Saturday night because most of your friends are working.

And for those of you who waited tables or tended bar to make some extra money or put yourself through school, you may find that the ones who choose to stay will probably work harder than you ever will again. They will hone their craft and become an expert in their field. Just like you.

While I left the Inn several times over the years, I always ended up back at home. With my friends. I made new friends every time and those friendships have defined my adult life. These were the friendships that stood the test of time. Even after we had gone our separate ways. Some of us left the business, some of us just moved on to different places. But these characters were the best characters to have.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

11 Things I Want My 11 Year Old to Know

Anyone who really truly knows me, knows that I am a total sap at heart. I believe that life is really just a collection of memories; good, bad, ugly and in between that make up the core of who we are. At 42, I can look back at my 11 year old self and see a little girl about to lose her father. There is so much I had to learn the hard way. If Max can take just one of these 11 lessons and bypass a moment of angst, confusion or pain, then I've done my job.

1. Laugh until your stomach hurts: There are few things in life that you can't figure out a way to laugh about. No matter how awful it may seem at the time, dig deep and laugh. It's ok. Who cares what everyone else thinks? Just figure out a way to laugh.

2. Believe what you see; not necessarily what you hear: People really do show you who they are. Watch them. Believe them the first time. Don't waste your time expecting them to change. Let them waste their own time figure out how to change.

3. Believe in yourself: Know that fundamentally, you are capable of anything. Because you are. Get out of your own way.

4. Understand that your parents really do know more than you do: Because they do. Teenagers know nothing. They only think they do.

5. Open your heart: Go into the world with your arms and eyes wide open. Believe that you are loveable. Because you are.

6. Have opinions: Whether it's your favorite food or who you want to be friends with, know how you feel about things. Develop a sense of self early in life. Take a stand. Become who you were meant to be, even if you are only 11 years old.

7. Don't believe what other kids say about you (unless it's nice): Kids are often mean for no other reason than they can be. Don't be that kid. And don't believe that kid either.

8. Feel things: Part of really living is really feeling. So be happy. Be sad. Be angry. Be all of those things. And let go of the things that don't serve you well.

9. Ask questions: Don't pretend you have it all figured out when you know you don't. Ask. We will tell you.

10. Read a book: Don't wait for people to bring the information to you. Open a book and figure it out for yourself.

11. Like who you are: You are standing on the edge of becoming whoever it is you choose to be. Choose to be a person you will want to get a drink with when you are 30. Those are my favorite kind of people.

Happy 11th Birthday Max at

Love in it's purest form

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Britt, Her Decision to Opt Out and Why I Couldn't and Wouldn't (But Sometimes Wish I Could)

Social media is an amazing thing. It has allowed me to reconnect with people from my past and get to know them in a way I hadn't in the first place. My friend, Britt is one of those FB reconnects, who through status posts and her most excellent blog I have come to know in a way that wouldn't have been possible 25 years ago. I have had the privilege to watch Britt battle and beat breast cancer with a grace and dignity I could only hope for, had I been dealt the same hand. She is truly inspirational and I think of often when I need some perspective on my life. So, yay to Britt!!!

Today, Britt posted a blog regarding her decision to opt out of the work force 10 years ago, leaving behind a career as a doctor in order to devote herself to a much more important job called motherhood. Opting out for women in the workforce has been with much controversy, taking into account all of that feminist hoopla about getting in there in the first place. Much has been written on it in terms of the effects on mothers, children, marriages and society at large. What is great about Britt's blog (notice how I continue to plug her blog??) is while she speaks to the larger issue, she does what everyone who has ever been a mother and had a career should do; she throws all of that research bullshit out the window and talks about her own personal experience (which is impressive in its own right given the fact that she is a scientist). Go ahead...check out her blog.

All of this opting out stuff truly came to my attention when the "opting back in" controversy started in recent years. Suddenly, many women who had opted out wanted back in while other "opt out-ers" looked down there noses at the women who were apparently jumping ship right back from where they came from.

So, how does this affect me? I never opted out, therefore, opting back in isn't even an option. But I have struggled daily with the decision of being a working mom (even though it's a necessity). I always believed I wanted to be a stay at home mother. Why wouldn't I? My mother had been one until long after we were grown and I relied heavily on that security blanket. I believe motherhood is a sacred gift. How could I not want to embrace it in every way, shape and form?

When Max was born, I was a stay at home mother. For exactly three weeks. And then this thirty-something called her boss and offered to come back two days a week. The overwhelming neediness of an infant consumed my psychic energy and I thought I may lose my mind. While the love was as instant as any mother will attest, for my sanity, and the long term sanity of my child, walking out the door those 2 days a week saved both of our lives.

I returned to graduate school when Max was 9 months old and shortly after he turned 5, I graduated with a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology. During those 4 years, Stephen and I parented "tag team style", with one of us with him every part of the day except for 2 half days of preschool a week for socialization. Stephen was incredibly supportive of my work part time, school part time schedule but we were literal ships passing in the afternoon as we handed Max off to one another. It did not help our relationship.

It was shortly before Max turned six that I returned to the work force on a full time basis. And it was shortly after that when Stephen and I split up. But that decision was the right one for all parties involved, including Max and we still maintain our own 21st century style nuclear family unit. We are truly blessed.

As for the decision to opt in or out, I believe this about myself. I never wanted to have it all. I never wanted to be Wonder Woman. I never wanted to be bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan. But I wanted to be a mother. I wanted to be a mother who my child could look up to, admire and know loves him first and foremost. And I also wanted to feel fulfilled in an intellectual way that pursuing my degree, my career and my teaching has allowed.

It is hard to do it all. But it fills up those places in my life. And pays the bills.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Remembering my brother 4 years later's that time of year again where I get to decide how I'm going to honor my brother's memory in a way that does him justice and allows me to let it all hang out. What I've learned over the course of this blog is that sometimes my message is repetitive but then again, the flipside of that is that I get to see the themes that run through my life and how I've coped along the way.

It's an interesting exercise....honoring the dead. Because I always fear that I've somehow overdone it, exposed too much, done too little and alienated those closest to me in the process. But, I always come back to the fact that this helps me (and even some of you) so I plough on through and carry on my way.

Four years later, my brother's death has been permanently intertwined into every aspect of my life. It was a catalyst for an incredible amount of personal growth for me that was complicated by the loss of my mother, the deconstruction of my family and the dismantling of my childhood home. Some days, I don't know where to put it all. I am not a compartmentalizer. I am a woman with few boundaries of the heart and yet I have many walls. It's a bizarre feeling.

Given all that has transpired since June 30, 2009, it is hard for me to really put a finger on what it is I want to say at this point. I am angry and grateful at the same time. I am happier than I probably have ever been amidst an incredible amount of sadness. I am more of who I was ever knew I could be and still wonder "Is this really what it is all about?"

I guess all I've ever wanted people to know is who my brother really was. Because in many respects, he was a caricature to many of those who claimed to know him. You really don't know someone until those very quiet moments in your life that you only share with a select few. My brother and I didn't select each other but we had moments people will never know about. And no blog or story will ever capture them for what they really were. And yet, I continue to try.

I have told so many stories over the past few years. And they always seem to fall short. How do you try to capture someone at the core of who they really were, not who everyone thought they were? I have talked about Live Aid and the other concerts. I have talked about my college graduation, my wedding, my divorce and those last few days. I have told stories of being a little kid with a much older brother who literally handed me my love of music and words and lyrics and humor. A brother who infuriated me and who I felt compelled to protect. A brother I infuriated and who felt compelled to protect me. But they still fall short.

What I want people to know is this. It sucks to lose a sibling in a way only those of you who have been there can truly understand. The feelings it brings up are not the ones you will or have experienced when you lose a parent. They just aren't. Your sibling is a mirror in which you will see all of the good and all of the bad as long as you are willing to look. You will see yourself in that person and feel simultaneously proud and disgusted. But what you are looking at is the truth. It's the truth in them and the truth in you. And it is worth it. And you will learn to love that person in a way that you weren't able to when they were here on earth. And that's okay. Because we all want to count our blessings while we are here but rarely do. That's human. That's what makes us real.

I would rather have learned the hard way then to have never learned at all. I want my brother's life and death to be a gift, not a burden. It's been both. Because you learn. With every goodbye, you learn.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Why I Could Never Be a Singer in a Bar

So I'm watching The Voice, my guilty pleasure, and am really in awe. This is no American Idol, where judges take pleasure in tearing the aspiring star to shreds. These artists are picked solely on their vocal ability and taken under the wing of a coach to hone their skills. It's actually quite beautiful to watch if you are a sap like me.

But, like all of us, these people didn't start off at the top. They have busted their asses to get where they are today. They have probably had to do things they didn't want to do and been humbled along the way. But humility breeds true success regardless of vocation and is often underrated and tucked away in the depths of most of our memories. Few people really embrace the humble moments in their lives that have led them to where they are today.

There is one young girl on the show, Sarah Simms (I think that's her name) who literally takes my breath away with her voice. She left vocal school to take a chance on the show and I'm pretty sure she made the right choice. It's clear she loves what she does and will do what it takes to be successful, regardless of what that looks like. Now, I'm entirely sure what her whole back story is but many of these people have sang to nearly empty rooms of people who may be more interested in picking up the girl across the room than listening to someone doing what they love.

This is why I could never be a singer in a bar.

You see....I already feel like a singer in a bar, so to actually have to be one (forget the little detail that I can't sing) would be devastating. Teaching often feels like what I assume singing in a bar feels like. Maybe I'm just suffering from end of semester burnout but my aggravation is real. Dare I say it's a generational thing but I am of the school of thought that humility has gone by the wayside.

I love teaching. I really do. I look back at the people who have most influenced my life along the way and there are more teachers (or employer/mentors) on that list than anyone else. I think teaching gives me the opportunity to open people's minds to a different point of view. I insist on pushing the envelope and creating uncomfortable moments in order to force people to think. But the fact of the matter is....some people don't care.

There is absolutely nothing more disheartening than standing in front of people who are sitting in a room under the premise that they want to further their education and realizing that some are simply going through the motions because a) they have to please their parents, b) they don't know what else to do or c) they assume their presence in a room is enough and should be rewarded.  Basically, it's like being a singer in a bar.

When you are a singer in a bar, you have 3 general groups of people in the crowd (I know this because I used to bartend). The first group is actually interested in listening to you. They like your music and want to hear you. The second group stumbled in the place and you just happened to be there. They might end up liking you or they might spend the majority of the time texting their friends; people who aren't even there, so in essence, they aren't there either. The third group are completely ignoring you but in a way that borders on offensive. They talk louder than the music, complain about the noise you are making or make snide comments. And if I was a singer in a bar, that would piss me off.

Since sometimes teaching is like being a singer in a bar, I have moments that really piss me off. It's not that everyone has to love me. Because, I know everyone doesn't love me (see "Owning Your Shit" blog). Instead, it's about respect and humility. Because when a person sits in a classroom, they are being given an opportunity. And there are a handful of students I encounter that have never framed the experience in that way. They are being given an opportunity that some people will never get. And they piss it away. They believe it's a means to an end and I am the catalyst. And the catalyst should reward them regardless of effort. And that's the one that blows me away the most.

I have never been afraid to work. Regardless of what that work looked like. If it was a paper in college, it had to be the best paper. If it was bartending, I had to be the fastest and most efficient. And if I have to get up and speak in front of people, I have to make people interested. And some of them aren't. And that humbles me in a way I hate but am learning to embrace in this role.

My boss reminded me that I'm just helping natural selection along by thinning out the "can do's" from the "won't do's". And for the record I have many "can do's". I even have "can't do very well's but try anyway". But those "won't do's" piss me off. They make me feel like a singer in a bar.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Dissertation on Why Punishment Generally Doesn't Work

I've been talking a lot lately. I know...shocking. But it's true. Between classes and licensure conferences for behavioral health professionals looking to work with kids diagnosed with Autism, I feel like the host of Oprah's Lifeclass on the Principles of Behavior. I don't consider myself an expert. I like to think of it more like....being Oprah. I'm just the messenger (actually, I do consider Oprah an expert on many things but that's for another day). (On another sidenote, I love that the word Oprah does not come up as a misspelled word on spell check. It just goes to show you how much street cred she's got.)

But anyway, in order for Behavior Specialists to continue to work with kids on the spectrum in Pennsylvania they are required to obtain a "license" and part of that requirement is sitting through 90 hours of training on a variety of subjects pertaining to working with individuals with autism. So I talk and talk and talk about all sorts of things that are important when working with this very unique population. But a lot of what I train on can be applied to people in general and is just good psychoeducational material to have in your backpocket when dealing with a child engaging in what us "behaviorists" call "behaviors".

Before I get to the title and why I think (and pretty much) know its true, let me give you a little back story. While talking and talking and talking, I'm encountering a heckler in the crowd. Other attendees referred to him as my "co-presenter". Because, no matter what I said, he felt the need to elaborate on and, in essence, show all of us how incredibly brilliant he is as a human being (and the British accent only added to his air of intelligence). Now, me being me , I initially considered this a intellectual duel per se, and met him tit for tat. I relayed information, he challenged, then I countered him with even more brilliance. It was like watching a tennis match. I know this because I could see everyone's heads bouncing back and forth between the two of us. After the second day, I made a pledge that I would no longer engage him in this manner because I started to feel like an ass.

So today, with a renewed sense of humility (I know...), and an agreement with one of our clinicians that if I felt the need to snap at Mr. Brilliant I would instead mock her (yes, she did  agree to the terms), I went in for a 5 hour stint of talking and talking and talking. And I did a pretty good job of it. First I present on the research on what causes autism (we don't really know if you were wondering) and then I gave a presentation about working with individuals with autism and the importance of looking at behavior as a valid, powerful form of communication. Now Mr. Brilliant, while still acting quite brilliant was somewhat subdued in his responses. I'm guessing he may have made the same pledge with himself that I did. But there was one thing he just wouldn't let go of, besides from being completely right in every sense of the word. He insisted, over and over again that the best way to decrease behavior is to increase punishment.

This is where I'm going to get all "expert sounding" on you. He's wrong. He's so wrong I can't even stand it. He's so wrong that I wanted to punch him, thereby punishing him, which would prove my point because there is no way he would have decreased his behavior of running his mouth about things he had no business saying.

We have all grown up in a punitive society. Historically, its what parents have done to deter negative behaviors. Your parents may have told you stories about having their mouths washed out with soap for cursing or having to sit at the table for hours because they refused to eat a green bean. They may have done these things to you themselves. You may have been spanked or even worse, abused as children. Now I want you to think back and ask yourself, did it actually work? Did you never curse again? Did you fall in love with green beans as a result of hours spent at a table? Depending on what you were spanked for (minor infraction), did you never engage in that behavior again? Did you even really know why you were being spanked in the first place? If you were actually abused, what did it teach you? To love your parents or to fear your parents?

The facts are (and there is research to back it up) that punishment only deters behavior in the very short term. More often, it simply teaches kids to discriminate, which is actually a quite valuable skill, between when they can curse (behind their parents back) and when they can't (when their parents are around). It doesn't teach them not to curse. They may suffer through eating the green beans, only to go throw them up in the bathroom. Or, it may teach them ingenious ways to rid the plate of green beans without the parent ever knowing (I've heard some dogs looovvvee green beans).

In terms of physical punishment, yes, it can be a powerful deterrent to negative behavior. I always counter the argument for the use of any form of punishment on children with behavioral or mental health diagnoses with the idea that typically developing children can learn from the cause and effect aspects of spanking. My mother used to just touch her shoe, as a signal that she may take it off and throw it at one of us, which I don't think she ever did. But that threat was enough to stop us in our tracks. On the other hand, kids with diagnoses such as autism, ADHD and ODD don't learn that way. They learn from being taught the appropriate skill, not by being punished for the inappropriate skill. So while it is NEVER okay to use physical punishment with kids diagnosed with a disorder, typically developing kids can learn from it. But at what cost? This man, who spoke so highly of the benefits of using punishment procedures, spoke openly of his disdain for his own father, who beat the living crap out a him (a variation of his own words). And he was not a young man. This hadn't happened to him 10 years ago. Or even 20 years ago. But he still hated his father for it today.

In today's society, we like to use things like "time out" as a form of punishment. We also like to take highly desired items away from our kids in order to "teach them a lesson". Well, I've got two thinking points on these strategies. In terms of time out...does your kid really care? What I'm really saying is have you spent enough "time in" with your kid ( meaning one on one positive attention) that the threat of you withdrawing attention from them for a period of time even matters? Yes, they may cry and scream and be upset in the short term but I'm here to tell you, if you are repetitively sending your kid to time out, you better be prepared to accept the fact that a) it's not working and b) you aren't spending enough quality time your child. I sent Max to time out once in his life. He is an only child and for most of his life had my undivided attention. Those 5 minutes were the longest 5 minutes of his life. Never had to do it again.

In terms of taking things away like the computer, the cell phone, the iPod or the iPad.....think very hard about that one. Because that one will hurt. Not only the child but you will hurt also. If you say no electronics for a week and that's all your child does because they wear their technology like an IV drip, are you really going to follow through? What do you think they are going to do without all that stuff? I'll tell you what most of them will do. They'll drive you completely insane until you can't take it anymore and you give in. Are you prepared to stand your ground? Like a soldier in battle? Because you are in a battle at that point. And I'd be interested to see who wins that one.

So, here's the good news in a nut shell. Rewarding your kids works. Why not let them earn the time on the iPod? Catching them being good instead of waiting for them to be bad works. It takes just as much time and energy to spend 5 minutes talking to your kid about how their day went (aka "time in") as it does sitting listening to them scream and cry for 5 minutes (aka "time out) because they asked you a question nicely and were ignored the first 5 times, so they screamed at you the 6th time. And its a much more pleasant experience.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Two Years Later: My Mother

Tomorrow is the 2 year anniversary of my mother's death. I went back and forth on whether or not I had the energy to blog about it but since I have an hour commute, by the time I got home after a very long day, I had thought out what I would say if I could muster up the energy to do it.

Anniversaries like these tend to creep up slowly. I, and maybe you, tend to start exhibiting symptoms of grief long before you, or I, recognize what they are. Crying for no reason, increased irritability and anxiety are just some of the things I've noticed I experience when the increasing "anniversaries" I've encountered in my life come to fruition.

You'd think these would be "old hat" for me by now. I know...we've all lost people. I just happened to have amassed a list of critical figures since childhood who have left this earth much earlier than either they or I were prepared for. And it sucks. And it's hard. And it really doesn't seem to get any easier the older I get. I've always been in awe of people who can funnel grief in a socially appropriate manner and then I secretly (or not so secretly) decide that these people are really just numbing out the real pain, or compartmentalizing it. I've never been good at either of these things in any part of my life, so....oh well.

So, tonight, while driving home, I spent most of the time thinking about the process of losing my mother and what that really meant to me. And I don't have any brilliant answers. Yes, it's the way it's supposed to be; I'd much rather be me losing my mother than my mother in the position she was in losing a son.

But about 40 minutes into the drive, I made the turn on 926 down by the Brandywine, over the bridge and crossed over the railroad tracks at Pocopson Road. And I turned my head left, which is the way I would have turned my car if I wanted to travel 5 more minutes to my mother's house. And I thought, without thinking, "I really should call my mom." And then I realized that wasn't even an option. And then I thought, "How could you even think that when you just spent 40 minutes debating writing a blog about your mother's death?" Crazy, huh?

And I think I have a couple of different answers to that question, and I'm guessing they are all right. First, it takes a long time to let go. It just does. I had a friend who recently lost her father say to me in an incredulous moment of grief, "Isn't it crazy how you lose them in pieces?" And it's true. You say goodbye in phases and those phases are dictated by your ability to face those dark places in yourself. You are always someone's child, no matter what your age. And that doesn't change when your parents die. It just transforms.

Second, I have found that part of me keeps my mother (and brother) alive by keeping them, always, somewhere close to the surface of my consciousness. My mother loved books; not the classics and not trashy romance novels. She loved historical fiction and psychological thrillers. But she loved them most when they were hardback. Paperback books didn't really cut it for her. She'd caress those things like they were the most beautiful things in the world. And anytime I pick up an overpriced hardback book, I have a piece of my mother. I can feel her in the room. It's true. And it's the same thing for me with my brother when I listen to 102.9. Yes...102.9. Not because he listened to that station but the classic rock (and for some reason, specifically Foreigner) is like sitting next to my brother. And that keeps him here.

And I think the other reason I so seamlessly thought to call my mother today is because, on some level, she is still here. In me. In Max. In my brother and my sisters and their kids. And even in our friends. That was the one thing that I thought about at length today on my ride home. My mother's funeral was full, not of people in their 70's like she was, but "kids" ranging in age from 40 to 55. Yes, a few were there simply to support us, never having met my mother, but so many of the "kids" in the room had connected with my mother (aka Mrs. Ciliberti, Mrs. C or Momma Joan) across the course of their lives. She had laughed with them, cried with them, told them to get out of her house, given them "the look" and even smacked a few across the head. And they loved her anyway. Just like the "kids" she had actually birthed. And that is a testament to life well lived.

Any mother who can mother those who have mothers without stepping on toes is by definition a mother. My mother was, and is, a true mother. And we were all very lucky to have her mother us. Even if we didn't know it at the time.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Owning Your Shit

I am a firm believer in owning your shit. By shit, I mean all those less than stellar qualities about yourself that maybe you should change but inherently make you who you are. I'll be honest...I've grown into this philosophy of life quite rapidly over the past few years and while, it may not make me the most likable person on the planet, it's freeing and liberating and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I think it's hard to own your shit. Who really wants to stand there and say, "I can be a real asshole when I think it's called for." But I can say that about myself because I also firmly know that I can be compassionate, empathetic, fun and thoughtful too.

I think owning your shit is really about embracing the dichotomy in yourself. And I think that's a process. I believe you've got to come to terms with some really uncomfortable realities about yourself. You've got to be able to look at every experience, even those terribly cringeworthy ones with no regrets. You've got to believe you are doing the best with what you have at the time. Because, quite honestly, I think there are times when being an asshole is called for. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of times when its wrong and unacceptable but gotta do whatcha gotta do.

I can say with great confidence that I see the dichotomy in myself very clearly, live in it fully and own every moment of it. I think owning it is being real. It's actually living. It's a way of saying, "You know what? This sucks and I'm not going to pretend it doesn't to make you feel better. Because if I want to be real and true and authentic, I'm going to live in my truth and you are probably going to hear about it." And I'll seldom say I'm sorry because I said it because I meant it.

I think we spend too much time worrying about what other people think. You could literally die tomorrow and have spent more time worried about how others perceive you than if you lived your live with integrity. Long story short...own your shit.

At this point, since I'm owning my shit (which is specifically that I can be a little too upfront at times, moody and have great difficulty hiding my complete disdain for lack of common sense or people's inability to own their shit), I'll also say some good things about myself (it is my blog you know...).

I am strong, smart, witty, thoughtful and empathetic. Now, those of you who have met the wrath of Carol maybe saying "Whaaa???" on some level. I can be intimidating. I know that. But I have incredible empathy for people....provided they are doing the best they can with what they have or know (see, another dichotomy).

But for every annoyed, in your face encounter with me, you are probably going to be able to remember a time I made you laugh, helped you talk it out, stood up for you when you couldn't do it yourself or actually cried when you didn't have it in you to cry for yourself (yes....I actually do that). My friends are my friends for life. I don't walk away from people or responsibility. But I can be a bitch too.

Honestly, I wish more people were like me. I wish I didn't feel like I was rocking the boat by being real. Because, no one is going to tell me that these social norms and rules out there are making people more psychologically healthy. If I'm afraid to tell you how I feel because it could potentially hurt your feelings, who is actually getting hurt? In my opinion, the answer is, both of us. Because we are just dancing around issues that we may both have feelings about all in the name of social etiquette. And who is going to suffer more from avoiding the issue? The answer, again, is both of us. Because we aren't really living. We are just going through the motions.

At this point, I'd like to say, this is a bit of a ramble that has played over and over in my mind multiple times over the past few years. I'm sure I've written about it in a variety of ways. But this time, I really just wanted to write a blog called "Own Your Shit." So I did. And I do.

The End.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Could I Have Accidentally Viewed Illegal Porn and Not Remember?

I'm not sure many of you could ask yourself the above question with a straight face, but last week, I encountered this very dilemma. You see, a strange thing happened to me at work the other day. Here I was, minding my own business (which may have been the problem, since I technically should have been answering work emails or something), chatting with a co-worker, about of all things...olive oil.
So, we are having this conversation and I told her I'd show her the website I had ordered some bottles off of and I did a Google search. The website comes up in the search and I click on the link. Up pops this pretty little website, all purple and shit, followed by a totally legit looking pop-up screen that says that a Trojan virus attack has been detected and I should click ok to clear.....which I did. Two seconds later, another pop-up appears saying the same thing but now there are 2 Trojan viruses detected. I click ok again...Big Mistake.

This appears...

Now, this picture does not do justice to the confusion and fear I felt when this screen overtook my computer. And you probably can't read everything it says so I give you the highlights:

-It starts off with the title "Internet Child Complaint Center" followed by "Department of Federal Bureau of Investigation"
-Then it starts spouting off some penal codes like "You have been illegaling viewing or distributing copyrighted content, thus infringing Article 1, Section 8, Clause B..."
-Then it says "You have been viewing or distributing illegal Pornographic content (Child porn, Zoofilia, etc.)"
-And then it basically tells me I'm going to jail.

So, a thousand things cross my mind, all while my coworker stands next to me in horror. "It was just an olive oil site. I've been in the store. Those ladies seemed normal. They told me it was BYOB (Bring Your Own Bread). Could that have been code for Bring Your Own Child Porn or Pictures of people having sex with animals? Side note - I just assumed "Zoofilia" meant people having sex with animals. I later looked it up and found out that it is in fact, Spanish, not English, for having sex with animals.

These thoughts came fast and furious, all while I'm frantically hitting the esc button to try to make it disappear to no avail. I even shut down the computer and tried to restart it but the screen came back. In the meantime, another coworker walks in my office and I'm left to explain why I am being accused of viewing porn at work.

Now, here's the best part. This coworker actually says to me, "Now wait. Do you think maybe you ran a search for your developmental psychology class on children and somehow stumbled....." And I actually start to defend myself. "No!!! No!!! I was trying to show Colleen this olive oil website. That's all." But in the back of my mind, I'm furiously running a mental catalog of everything I've ever looked at on the computer because...could she be right???

Then we notice (see photo) a drawing of a webcam and a microphone with a caption that reads "ALL ACTIVITY OF THIS COMPUTER IS BEING RECORDED USING AUDIO, VIDEO AND OTHER DEVICES".  And we actually start scanning the frame of the computer. And then Erin (my accuser) points out the computer doesn't even have a webcam or microphone. Maybe, just maybe, I've been scammed.

Then I notice that, according to the screen, if I pay the FBI some money, this will all go away (see bottom of photo). And then I start to think that I don't think the FBI would actually advertise accepting bribes.

At this point, I realize that instead of clearing the virus, I may have actually set it off, But I'm still stuck with going to tell the higher ups that I am now being watched by a line drawing of a webcam all because I wanted to show Colleen some olive oil. I've had prouder moments at work. But...not many funnier ones.

My computer was shipped out and I still don't have it back. I commandeered my part time supervisor's laptop since he's only in one day a week and he arrived today to no computer of his own. And then I had to tell him that I really wasn't looking at illegal porn. And what Zoofilia means.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Could I Write a Book?

For me, writing has always come out of living a fairly to-the-bone kind of life, just really being present to a lot of life. The writing has been really a byproduct of that. - Alice Walker

I've been writing most of my life. True story. It's a natural part of who I am; a piece of myself I've kept hidden from the outside world until the last few years. Basically, as long as I've been thinking I've been writing.

I wrote my first real "piece" in 2nd grade. It was a book (I say "book" because I not only illustrated it, but it was haphazardly bound together with some staples) titled "The Year of Two Santas". Now, I'll admit, I may have slightly plagiarized this title from a certain Christmas special that featured two brothers who reeked havoc on the weather in an attempt to ruin Christmas because Santa wanted the year off. But my idea was my own, even though it slightly resembled the dichotomy of a gift giving Santa and the gift stealing Grinch. All of this is beside the point. At the end of the day, I, a mere 7 year old writing prodigy, wrote a book about a nice Santa and a mean Santa and how they fought to the near death over how Christmas was gonna go down that year. Honestly, I'm not sure exactly, what the full story line was, but you can surmise from the title, it was brilliant.

Once my book was illustrated and bound, I was given the privilege of walking down the hall at Chadds Ford Elementary School to the kindergarten classrooms and read my story to a room full of children much, much younger than myself. I mean, they couldn't even spell yet.

And a writer was born. I continued to write throughout my youth; in cringy worthy diaries and occasional creative writing assignments. In middle school, I wrote something (what, I have no idea) that earned me a honorable mention in another "bound publication".

I've saved most of it, although lately, the thought of burning some of it (especially the diaries) has crossed my mind. Because let's face it....those diaries can contain some scary, scary shit.  The fact that I would put pen to paper and record my deepest darkest secrets of adolescence is simply put, insane. I look at my own child, nearing the tween years and wonder to myself, what if he struggles with all of those angst filled questions I did? What if he acts on those impulses and feelings like I did? Worst of all, I think, what if he found them and read them? Good thing (and bad thing) that I'm not exactly sure where they are.

I continued my love affair with writing in college, preferring papers to tests. Ask me a question and I'll write you an answer. Tell me to dissect an idea and I'm with you. Ask me to guess between 4 answers and it was a crap shoot. My senior year at Neumann College, I was one of 12 people in the Psychology program. We didn't take tests. We wrote. And I thrived. Just like a real writer, I poured myself into my papers. I really tried to figure out how the mind (not the brain) processed trauma. I actually came up with my very own theory and nearly peed my pants having to get up in front of the class to present it. My senior thesis started out with the question "Why could you beat your kid in the 1950's and it not be abuse but now it is?" and ended up being a critical analysis of what constitutes childhood historically dating back to the 1600's. I handed it in once and had it returned to me by my professor with the following feedback: "It's good enough for me but it's not good enough for you." And when my masterpiece was finally done, I let my friend John Forte read it. His feedback: "This is amazing. Not a single split infinitive." I didn't even know what a split infinitive was at the time. I'm still not 100% clear.

After college, my writing went largely dormant. Life happened. Every once in a while, I would put pen to paper but honestly, my ex-husband (not Stephen) was not very supportive of me exploring my mind so I didn't. At least not by writing. I always thought. I'm a thinker. He may have made me feel dumb for writing but he couldn't stop me from thinking. And writing for me was just thinking on paper. Going back to grad school helped get me back in a writing frame of mind but honestly, you try writing with a 2 year old yelling your name every 2 minutes. Although, I will toot my own horn for a moment and tell you that I did win $100 in a writing contest in which I was charged with explaining what Kennett Square meant to me in 500 words or less.

And then it happened. Everyone knows. My brother died (Insert shock but in reality just sarcasm). There was absolutely no other way for me to process that other than to write about it. And I did. Alot. And because I was in shock and devastated and oozing with grief, rather than hiding it in a diary or the hard drive of my computer, I hit share and let it out into the universe.

I look back on that decision (which was really more of a reflex) and think it has been as much of a blessing as a curse. On the upside, it opened the flood gates. I didn't believe I could ever get over (at least not to the extent that I have) losing my brother, or my mother. I credit hitting that share button over and over with that. That and a lot of crying and laughing. Which I must say, is a must. On the downside, it opened the flood gates. Many many times, just prior to hitting that share button, I questioned myself. Am I doing the right thing? Is this too much? Are people sick of it?

One thing I have learned about writing is that if you don't question yourself, you aren't doing it right. The other thing I've taken from all of this is that a single "like", public or even private message telling you to keep going, will, well, keep you going. And it has.

So, could I write a book? I'm not sure. Not unless Santa is involved. Then, it's a no brainer.