iphone december 2012 093I’ve been immersed in teen world as of late – mostly delightfully so. Because I have a junior, of course the subject of WHAT’S NEXT has been our main topic of discussion. She is plotting and planning, exploring and pondering just what she’ll do once senior year is over. And she is very much aware of the fact that the year to come will fly by at lightning speed.

In this planning process we’ve been interrogating lots of youth. Asking them about their likes and dislikes, their big passions and desires, and also, logistically speaking, what does it all look like? In these conversations, what keeps rearing its head is their awareness that desires can change. And in that awareness is also a nervousness consisting of fear of choosing wrong.

“What if I take this apprenticeship and then I realize I don’t like it.”

“What if this major is not for me?”

“What if I get to this college or this town or this job and then I hate it?”

So we came up with a term one evening while discussing future plans with a brilliant young man I know. He was about to start a big apprenticeship/training at a guitar maker’s studio. He was excited but also had a nagging fear that it might not be for him. In other words, he wasn’t sure this was something he’d want to do the rest of his life. And he had somehow been convinced that he needed to make rest-of-life plans at the tender age of 20. His mom and I reassured him that at this point in time, and really his whole life long, all he really had to choose was his path of now.

If he liked it, he would stay on that path. If he didn’t, he would try something new. And then he’d be on a new path. But still it would remain, the path of now.

Same with the mom I talked to who was choosing a kindergarten for her child. “What if it’s too far or too much $$ or too many hours?” If they liked it, they would stay. And if they didn’t, they would try something new. And they’d be on a new path. But always they would be on the path of now.

It’s all we can do really, except for those that have a crystal ball at the ready, is choose what’s right for now.

So make your decisions with all the information you have available to you at the time. Go towards the things that feel right. Play it by year. Continuously assess if what you’re doing is working for you and your family. Whether you are a young family starting out, or a 20 year old choosing a career path, or a 90 year old pondering a new place to live, know that what you are choosing is the path of now. It can change.

So gather all the info. Choose wisely. But without fear. Your path of now is waiting for you.

 

 

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Look At Us Now.

I am working on a new book right now with Penguin Random House Publishing called, Look At Us Now (And now. And now. And now.)  It’s an interactive journal for families with questions and prompts that will encourage readers to pause in family life. And in that pause it offers a way of taking stock of right now; like an emotional snapshot of sorts. Each page, each prompt will offer a chance to look at family life right now. And right now. And right now. Because one thing I’ve learned in this parenting thing which I’m now more than 17 years into, is that what we look like right now as a family is always, ALWAYS changing.

My own mom, she-who-raised-nine-children, turned 90 this month. When you say 90 is sounds like a lot. But when you say 9 x 10 years it doesn’t really sound like very much at all. I mean, look at how fast the last 10 years have gone. And the 10 years before that! And how is it that in some ways I still feel like a little family starting out and at the same time there are college catalogs arriving daily for my eldest? In the words of my mom, and someone else who said it first, “Time flies like the wind. Fruit flies like bananas.” Which to me means, you can try to make it sense of it all and make sense of our time here on earth but really, it’s hard. So when we can’t make sense, at least we can take notice.

If you don’t believe me that time flies and that things are always changing, I offer the photo here as proof. (I’ve been watching so much The Good Wife that I’m speaking like a lawyer!)

This is my mom on the streets of NYC in 1926. I think it’s Mulberry Street, the street where she was born. See the wicker pram? The cinder streets? The boys playing stickball in knickers? Time does fly. This was only 9 x 10 years ago. And rest assured things look a little different there now. My mom is still here 9 x 10 years later, but just about everything around her has changed.

And so I encourage you to pause at some  point today. And take a look at your own sweet life  – whether you are just a little family starting out, or whether you live alone or whether all your birds have flown the coop and made their own nests elsewhere.

Who are you today? What do you love right now? What fills your heart with joy on this day? Pause and take stock of today because tomorrow will most assuredly be different.

 

Please Excuse Our Mess

Play a game together.

Go outside.

Lay on the couch.

Watch a show.

Have a party.

Enjoy each other.

Host crappy dinner parties. 

Go to bed early.

Close the door of your kid’s bedroom.

Close the door of the laundry room.

Blitz when the mess overwhelms.

Just don’t let the cleaning of the house dictate how you feel about  family life.

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Jump, Jump For Your Love!

For years I resisted the trampoline. Too big. Too ugly. Too much money.

For years the kids insisted.

This year, their collective gift from Grandma was a big 15′ trampoline. (Don’t worry, she asked me first.)

Now, 2 weeks in, I see it not just as a fun tool but as an amazing tool for getting us moving,  building greater family connection AND for getting us all outside when maybe we’d be on the couch instead.

For my youngest, age 8, it is a fine outlet for his endless energy. It is also my bargaining chip when he is asking for screens. Jump for 30 minutes and you’ll get some screen.

For my 12 year old, it is a great gathering place for her and all her friends. Don’t know what to do when your friends are over? Problem solved. The trampoline is the main activity for any gathering. They can jump, lay about, talk, jump some more and have endless tween fun. Before homework, she jumps. After homework, she jumps. And the other night when it was just the two of us at home? We laid out there for over an hour, soaking in the moonlight and discussing middle school, friendships, dreams, and the general pursuit of happiness.

For my 15 year old, it is a wild place for him to engage with his 8 year old brother. On the trampoline all things feel equal, and the games they create on there are endless and boundless and fun. And wild. Did I mention wild? They can wrestle, challenge, and get all kinds of scrappy. It is a place too for him to connect to the little kid that still lives inside his big growing 15 year old body.

For my 17 year old, it is a place for her to play with all her siblings; one at a time or as a group. They jump, challenge and connect in ways that were feeling difficult to find elsewhere. It’s also a place for her to really play. Either with a random sibling or with her friends. And a place to go when the studying or the chaos of family life or the stress just gets too much.

For me? I jump here and there, before I make dinner or when I just need to step away from all the have-tos. It let’s me engage in physical play in a way I hadn’t found otherwise. Plus it’s good exercise. And I find too, that when I’m jumping with one of the kids, we’re usually laughing so, so hard. Either because my jumps feel lame compared to theirs or just because it is a place that feels really, really fun. And if I’m tired? I can just lay there and let them jump all around me. Connection made.

And for all of us together, the dyamics are ever shifting, ever active, ever fun. We jump in various duos, groups and as a pack. We interact in ways we never did before; active, exhilirating, expressive and exhausting. From the kitchen window I happily watch it all unfold. (remembering that what sometimes looks like aggression, is anything but.)

So, though I’m not telling you to rush out and buy a trampoline, if you are looking for ways to jump into new family dynamics, the trampoline is really, really working for us.

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Comfort and Joy? Make it Happen.

Comfort and joy! That’s the goal remember? It’s in the songs. It’s in the air. It’s in the display case at the department store even! So how do you find it this time of year when there is so much pressure to make it all perfect?

While I make no guarantees about perfection, I offer you this simple exercise for dialing in a little bit more of that joy we all desire. Ready?

Grab a pen and paper, have a seat and take a big, deep breath.

  1. Think of your ideal holiday moment. Not the entire holiday but one particular moment. Maybe it was when you were a kid. Maybe it was last year. Reflect on that moment only and write a brief synopsis.
  2. Now, break it down. In bullet points write down, what were the ELEMENTS involved? What was the FEELING you had?
  3. Without recreating the exact scene, write down a way you could bring some of those elements and those feelings into your present-day holiday. That’s it!

Are you feeling it? I hope so! I know this exercise works wonders for me as a great way of getting connected to the feelings I want. And remember the point of all this? Comfort and joy. Bring it on!

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Every year I make my grandmother’s cranberry relish. It’s easy, it’s delicious and it’s always a big hit at gatherings. The recipe is simple:

  • 1 bag of cranberries
  • 1 whole orange (peel included)
  • sugar to taste (about 1/2 cup)
  • Blend in food processor. Done.

I told my sister that I loved it for it’s taste and it’s simplicity. She was surprised that I found it so easy. “It’s the cooking part that takes the longest,” she said.

“The cooking part?”

Apparently my grandmother used to cook it somehow. But I never knew that and so skipped that step altogether. Which was a good thing for me because I think if I had to cook it, it wouldn’t be a prt of my tradition and I wouldn’t have thought of her every time I did.

Now when I make it I think of my grandmother AND my sister. It connects us. And I am reminded about the importance of this amazing season. It’s not something to get through. It’s not something that should make you feel stressed and beholden. It should FEEL right.  You can borrow from tradition and mix it with your own ingredients. You can make up new stuff altogether. You can do it in a way that honors the past and celebrates the now. And find what works best for you and your family.

So as we kick off this big holiday season, let’s not fret about what we SHOULD be doing. Or how it HAS to be done. Instead let’s keep our eyes on the prize which is the gathering, the celebrating, the appreciating and the connecting. Oh, and the fantastic feasts!!!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

 

 

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This essay was sent to me by a sibling of mine and I then reached out to Dr. Profeta for permission to reprint. It’s this fear of being left behind that started Slow Family Living in the first place. Dr. Profeta’s experience in the ER and his own parenting journey has taught him quite a bit about what’s important and where to draw the line. 

YOUR KID AND MY KID ARE NOT PLAYING IN THE PROS by Dr. Louis Profeta

I don’t care if your eight year old can throw a baseball through six inches of plywood. He is not going to the pros. I don’t care if your twelve-year-old scored seven touchdowns last week in Pop Warner. He is not going to the pros. I don’t care if your sixteen -year-old made first team all-state in basketball. He is not playing in the pros. I don’t care if your freshman in college is a varsity scratch golfer, averaging two under par. He isn’t playing in the pros. Now tell me again how good he is. I’ll lay you two to one odds right now – and I don’t even know your kid, I have never even see them play – but I’ll put up my pension that your kid is not playing in the pros. It is simply an odds thing. There are far too many variables working against your child. Injury, burnout, others who are better – these things are just a fraction of the barriers preventing your child from becoming “the one.”

So how do we balance being the supportive parent who spends three hours a day driving all over hell’s half acre to allow our child to pursue his or her dream without becoming the supportive parent that drives all over hell’s half acre to allow our child to pursue OUR dream? When does this pursuit of athletic stardom become something just shy of a gambling habit? From my experience in the ER I’ve developed some insight in how to identify the latter.

1. When I inform you as a parent that your child has just ruptured their ACL ligament or Achilles tendon, if the next question out of your mouth is, “How long until he or she will be able to play?” you have a serious problem.

2. If you child is knocked unconscious during a football game and can’t remember your name let alone my name but you feel it is a “vital” piece of medical information to let me know that he is the starting linebacker and that the team will probably lose now because he was taken out of the game, you need to see a counselor.

3. If I tell you that mononucleosis has caused the spleen to swell and that participation in a contact sport could cause a life threatening rupture and bleeding during the course of the illness and you then ask me, “If we just get some extra padding around the spleen, would it be OK to play?” someone needs to hit you upside the head with a two by four.

4. If your child comes in with a blood alcohol level of .250 after wrecking your Lexus and you ask if I can hurry up and get them out of the ER before the police arrive so as not to run the risk of her getting kicked off the swim team, YOU need to be put in jail.

I bet you think I’m kidding about the above patient and parent interactions. I wish I were, but I’m not. These are a fraction of the things I have heard when it comes to children and sports. Every ER doctor in America sees this. How did we get here? How did we go from spending our family times in parks and picnics, at movies and relatives houses to travel baseball and cheerleading competitions? When did we go from being supportive to being subtly abusive?

Why are we spending our entire weekends schlepping from county to county, town to town, state to state to play in some bullshit regional, junior, mid-west, southeast, invitational, elite, prep, all- state, conference, blah, blah, blah tourney? We decorate our cars with washable paint, streamers, numbers and names. We roll in little carpool caravans trekking down the interstate honking and waiving at each other like Rev. Jim Jones followers in a Kool-Aide line. Greyhounds, Hawks, Panthers, Eagles, Bobcats, Screaming Devils, Scorching Gonads or whatever other mascot adorns their jerseys.

Somewhere along the line we got distracted, and the practice field became the dinner table of the new millennium. Instead of huddling around a platter of baked chicken, mashed potatoes and fruit salad, we spend our evenings handing off our children like 4 x 200 batons. From baseball practice to cheerleading, from swimming lessons to personal training, we have become the “hour-long” generation of five to six, six to seven, and seven to eight, selling the souls of our family for lacrosse try-outs. But why do we do this?

It’s because, just like everyone else, we’re afraid. We are afraid that Emma will make the cheerleading squad instead of Suzy and that Mitch will start at first base instead of my Dillon. But it doesn’t stop there. You see, if Mitch starts instead of Dillon then Dillon will feel like a failure, and if Dillon feels like a failure then he will sulk and cower in his room, and he will lose his friends because all his friends are on the baseball team, too, and if he loses his friends then he will start dressing in Goth duds, pierce his testicles, start using drugs and begin listening to headbanging music with his door locked. Then, of course, it’s just a matter of time until he’s surfing the net for neo-Nazi memorabilia, visiting gun shows and then opening fire in the school cafeteria. That is why so many fathers who bring their injured sons to the ER are so afraid that they won’t be able to practice this week, or that he may miss the game this weekend. Miss a game, you become a mass murderer – it’s that simple.

Suzy is a whole other story, though. You see, if she doesn’t make the cheerleading squad she will lose a whole bunch of friends and not be as popular as she should (and she’s REAL popular). If she loses some friends, she will be devastated – all the cool kids will talk about her behind her back, so then she’ll sit in her room all day, eating Ding Dongs and cutting at her wrists. Then, of course, it is only a matter of time until she is chatting on the Internet with fifty-year-old men and meeting up with them at truck stops. And that is why every mother is so frightened when her daughters have mononucleosis or influenza. Miss cheerleading practice for a week, and your daughter is headed for a career in porn. It’s that simple.

We have become a frightened society that can literally jump from point A to point Z and ignore everything in between. We spend so much time worrying about who might get ahead – and if we’re falling behind – that we have simply lost our common sense. Myself included.

There was a time when sick or injured children were simply sick or injured children. They needed bed rest, fluid, antibiotics and a limitation on activity. They just needed to get better. They didn’t NEED to get better.

I know, I know. Your family is different. You do all these things because your kid loves to compete, he loves the travel basketball, she loves the swim team, it’s her life, it’s what defines him. Part of that is certainly true but a big part of that isn’t. Tens of thousands of families thrive in this setting, but I’m telling you, from what I’ve seen as a clinician, tens of thousands don’t. It is a hidden scourge in society today, taxing and stressing husbands, wives, parents and children. We’re denying children the opportunity to explore literally thousands of facets of interests because of the fear of the need to “specialize” in something early, and that by not doing this your child will somehow be just an average kid. How do we learn to rejoice in the average and celebrate as a whole society the exceptional? I’m not sure, but I know that this whole preoccupation is unhealthy, it is dysfunctional and is as bad as alcoholism, tobacco abuse, or any other types of dependency.

I would love to have a son that is a pro athlete. I’d get season tickets; all the other fathers would point at me and I might get a chance to meet Sandy Koufax. It isn’t going to happen, though. But you know what I am certain will happen? I’ll raise self-reliant kids, who will hang out with me when I’m older, remember my birthday, care for their mother, take me to lunch and the movies, buy me club level seats at Yankee Stadium on occasion, call me at least four times a week and let me in on all the good things in their life, and turn to me for some comfort and advice for all the bad things. I am convinced that those things just will not happen as much for parents of the “hour-long” generation. You can’t create a sense of family only at spring and Christmas break. It just won’t happen. Sure, the kids will probably grow up to be adequate adults. They’ll reflect on how supportive you were by driving them to all their games and practices and workouts. They’ll call the ER from a couple states away to see how mom’s doing but in time you’ll see that something will be missing, something that was sacrificed for a piano tutor, a pitching coach, a travel soccer tournament. It may take years, but in time, you’ll see.

Dr.Louis M. Profeta is an Emergency Physician Practicing in Indianapolis,Indiana. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Patient in Room Nine Says He’s God.

Feedback at louermd@att.net is welcomed.

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TAG! You’re it.

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When my daughter was born people warned me with a little laugh, “oh just wait til she’s 17! Then you’re in for it.”

Well, she’s 17 and I really am in for it. I’m in for all of it. I’m in for discussing colleges and options and cities and futures as yet unknown. I’m in for staying up late at night watching heart-wrenching movies and discussing bad scripts. I’m in for great conversations about life, liberty and the constant pursuit of happiness. I’m in for long lingering hugs just because. And soulful apologies after we have a fight. I’m in for laughing until we cry and crying until we laugh. I’m in for dancing to loud pop music to shake off the blues or sitting quietly side by side at the kitchen counter eating cereal at midnight. And I’m in for the constant reminder that while we might be alike in some ways, in many ways we are different and isn’t that a beautiful realization.

I want her and  all my kids to know that I have complete and utter faith in them. Sometimes I forget this and I get in their faces with a string of you-shoulds, but really, when I step back and watch, it is mind-blowing how well they navigate this world. I remember when she was little and I reminded her for the gazillionth time to say thank-you to someone, and one time she turned to me and said rather annoyed, “I know!!! You just have to give me a second!” She had been there for the lesson all the times before, and now, all I really needed to do was to let her be. This I will try to remember  now and for their whole life long. I will try to let them be them. I will try to give them a second. And when I don’t, I will try not to take their reminders personally.

I want my kids to view life like a fresh notebook at the beginning of a semester, or a three-day weekend with no plans. I want them to know they can make it whatever they want, that they can fill it big ideas and people they love and the things that make them feel good. They can fill it with projects and plans and adventures and they can allow a little space for dreaming too. Because it is those quiet moments of dreaming that take us all to our next big ideas.

I want all my kids to know always that I am so glad they were born. And while my daily focus might sometimes be too much on the tasks, overall my heart explodes with the realization that we are fellow humans, walking through this life together. And while that takes a little while to sink in when you’re tending to the physical needs of babies and tiny children, that becomes so clear when your child turns seventeen.

So yes, if you have little kids now, just wait until they’re seventeen! I guarantee you, it will blow your mind.

 

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Resistance is futile.

Our refrigerator door has a feature in which a tight seal is activated each time you close the door. Once you shut it, it takes a few seconds, maybe 3 or 4, for the seal to loosen enough to open the door again. So if you  try immediately, it is difficult to pull. There is resistance.

It used to bug me this feature. I occasionally even exclaimed out loud a rather inappropriate epithet, followed by a frustrated sigh. To a refrigerator door. For a delay of possibly 2 seconds of time.

Then one day when all was calm and the seal had activated as I was putting away groceries, I just stood there, hand on the handle, and took a big deep belly breath. In, down, out. In the time it took to take that breath, the seal released its vulcan grip, and I easily, effortlessly opened the door. AND had the benefits that a deep breath can bring.

Simple as that. What was frustration, was now benefit. What was blood-pressure-raising, was now calming. And at the risk of sounding all spiritually haughty, what was resistance, was now empowerment.

All day I looked for more chances to turn frustration around. And I didn’t have to look too far. Each time I came across the little things that aggravate like red lights and toothpaste on the counter and socks on the living room floor, I froze. And took a breath. The things that are so momentary and so minuscule really, but became monumental in the way I let them impact me. And all day I used those frustrations as a reminder to take a deep breath.

Now it’s my sometimes mantra. FREEZE! Take a breath. Feel better.

Because really, though I long to remember these mantras of mine ALL the time, I am human and it is only sometimes I am wise.

I am grateful when I do remember, and even a tiny bit grateful for these little frustrations now that I know I can use them to my advantage.

Because believe me, living in a house with 4 other humans,  those little frustrations aren’t going anywhere and I am breathing deeply all day long. When I am not shouting inappropriate epithets that is.

 

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