The Mommy Mafia

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Friday nights in America's suburbs are the nights of mommy happy hours. It's not the kind you remember from your twenties where you meet friends after work at the local bar. No, it's a lot more interesting than that.

There are neighborhood politics, gossip and tricky social ins-and-outs that need to be navigated through to participate. There are babies and toddlers, there are tasty adult drinks, and there are the inevitable alpha moms (and dads) that are the stars of the evening.

Usually, there is a "lead" mom that runs the show.  She is typically a stay-at-home mom who is highly educated and had a high-powered job in her previous life and who now channels all those leadership skills and intellectual prowess into creating a powerful neighborhood mommy mafia.

Within each mafia infested neighborhood, there are three groups of moms: (1) the moms that are totally out of the loop and know nothing about the mafia (don't worry, that doesn't make you a bad're either just new to the neighborhood or have a life of your own); (2) the moms that are in the mommy mafia (don't worry, that doesn't make you a bad person just either have a need to rule the world or are one of those really likable people that others want to be around); or (3) you know about the mommy mafia but you've either chosen not to join them or you've tried but been rejected (ouch...that hurts!).

Just to be clear, there's nothing actually wrong with the mafia moms.  Some of them are truly lovely and interesting women who, if you met at the park or a kid’s birthday party, you would hit it off with instantly (you may even develop a great friendship with one of them not knowing that she’s in the mommy mafia).  But together these moms have a certain influence and cachet in the neighborhood.

They decide who gets to participate in the happy hours and who does not. The ones that are deemed worthy of that social benefit are sent an invitation (oh, please let it be me!) and the ones that are not deemed worthy are accidentally or not so accidentally left off the list (oops).  In this type of situation, being totally out of the loop is a blessing. You don't even know that you've been rejected!

So what is a girl to do? You move into a new neighborhood.  You think, wow, this place looks ideal to raise a's going to be all roses and pony rides from here. And then you realize that you need to make some interesting choices, a lot like the choices you made in high school.  Who to hang out with? What to do on a Friday night?

The good news is that you're not in high school anymore (thank God!).  You can choose not to let those neighborhood workings bother you and to create your own happiness in whatever shape you want.  Whether it's having one good friend that you see occasionally or a hundred friends that you party with every weekend or anything in between.

It doesn't matter what you choose, as long as you don't take it too seriously. So this Friday night, grab a good friend (or ten) and have a delicious cocktail!

With a pounding heart and trembling fingers, I just submitted this piece to the Huffington Post “Blog Team” for consideration.  Apparently they get thousands of submissions a week so this is a real long shot but I’m trying to be braver and take chances.  

Mommy Dating

Monday, September 23, 2013

I wrote this a few years ago but can still really identify with the angst and joy of being a new mom and having to do this kind of friendship dating...

Mommy dating is alive and well. It might sound a little risqué but it's actually quite tame. Mommy dating is the delicate dance that women embark on when they meet each other in the park, the bookstore or the local Starbucks and try and figure out if they and their children, and if they're ambitious their husbands, will become BFFs -- best friends forever.
In a lot of ways, it's like regular dating. In the beginning, it's very exciting. The expectations are high and the air is filled with possibility. The prospect of having a great new friend is thrilling; someone you can tell everything to, with whom you can enjoy an afternoon cup of coffee while your kids play together and someone you can have spontaneous family BBQs with on weekend afternoons.
But, like regular dating, it doesn't always turn out as you hoped. Either it is you or her that figures out that you don't really have that much in common. Or something she or you did or said rubs the other the wrong way.
Then it's break up time.
Whether you've had two or ten play dates, it still stings when a mom breaks up with you. There may not be any tears (like there were when you were dating in your twenties) but you still feel sad and disappointed and a little more jaded about new female friendships.
But after some time, you decide to put yourself out there again. And when you least expect it you find someone special. Your play dates feel natural and easy and before you know it, you have a real friendship. You still tread lightly and cautiously because you've been hurt before but she surprises you with her honesty and warmth. Then one afternoon, as you are watching your kids play in the park together you realize that you've found a true friend and suddenly you're so glad that you didn't give up on mommy dating.

A different way to look at meditation

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Have you wanted to meditate but been too scared to try? Do people keep talking about how great it is, and even though you believe them, you just can’t get yourself to do the whole cross-legged, “OM”-ing thing?
Well, you’re not alone. A lot of people feel intimidated by meditation. But they also realize that they need to find some peace in their busy stimulation-filled lives.
So how do you overcome the meditation intimidation hurdle? One way is to change the way you look at it. Instead of meditation, you can call it silence. Or stillness.
You can start by taking a few minutes to sit in silence with no other expectations or pressure for results. Just practice periods of silence or stillness; and see what happens.
You will find that over time, these moments will help you reduce stress, relieve anxiety and feel more energetic.
Studies have shown that many conditions that are caused or worsened by stress can be improved through a practice of silence or stillness. "The relaxation response [from meditation] helps decrease metabolism, lowers blood pressure, and improves heart rate, breathing, and brain waves," says cardiologist Herbert Benson, the founder of the Mind/Body Institute at Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
In addition to the physical benefits, practicing moments of silence can also provide mental and emotional benefits.
Clearing your mind each day through a practice of silence can improve the way you see yourself and connect with other people. It can do this by: (1) putting you in a reflective rather than reactive mood; (2) helping you better understand what you want, where you’re going and what’s meaningful to you; and (3) giving you a greater sense of calm, clarity and empathy.
One way you can start practicing these moments of silence, is to follow the simple steps outlined below from Dr. Herbert Benson's book The Relaxation Response:
1. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed.
4. Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word "one"* silently to yourself. For example, breathe in, and then out, and say "one", in and out, and repeat "one." Breathe easily and naturally.
5. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened. Do not stand up for a few minutes.
6. Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and return to repeating "one."
*Choose any soothing word, preferably with no meaning or association, in order to avoid stimulation of unnecessary thoughts.
If you’ve never tried these steps before, at first it might feel awkward and strained. But don’t give up. Try it for a few minutes at a time and don’t worry about whether you’re doing it right. Just remember, any amount of time spent in stillness or silence each day will positively impact the quality of your life and relationships.

10 Tips to Help You Reach Your Goals

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Achieving any goal can be extremely difficult.  From the smallest one like making your bed in the morning to the big ones like starting a new career.

It can be especially scary when you're older and set in your ways.  But you're never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream.  Here are a few reminders that can help you move towards your dreams:

1. Just take one step forward today and don't worry about the rest.  We are often intimidated by the big goal at the end but if you put that aside and take a single step forward each day, before you know it, you will be at a place you only dreamt about.

2. It's OK to ask for help.  It doesn't make you weak.  It makes you human and you'll be surprised by how much you gain by asking.

3. It's OK to have doubts.  We all have them.  Recognize your doubts and move forward anyway.

4. Success takes hard work.  No getting around it, it will be hard work to accomplish your goal.  But it will be worth it.

5. Do what works for you.  We spend a lot of time trying to figure out what others are doing but sometimes the best way to go forward is to find what works for you and do that.

6. Don't be intimidated by other people's success.  There will always be others that are better at something than you and who have already accomplished what you dream about.  Instead of being intimidated by them, learn from them and take what you can to work towards your own success.

7. Create some peace for yourself each day.  With our busy non-stop lives it's hard to have a moment of silence.  But we need time to be still and think.  Even if it's only a few minutes, create that peace for yourself.

8. When you get down, go for a walk.  We all get discouraged and down sometimes and it's easy to give in to that down place and wallow in it.  When you feel it weighing you down, leave your environment and go for a walk.  Even a walk around the block can help clear your mind and lift your mood.

9. Be open to people.  Every person you meet can impact your life.  A friend does not have to be a best friend to be worth your time and effort.

10.  Finally, don't forget to enjoy the journey - The journey can be just as fulfilling as the destination. 

The Perfect Words

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Every day after school I ask my son the same thing--“how was school?”--and every day he says the same thing—“fine.”  That word usually translates into one of two things, either nothing monumental happened that he needs to tell me about at that exact moment or something did happen but he’s going to wait to tell me when he’s ready.  And that could be anytime between now and a random time in the future.

So I take the “fine” and hope that things are going more or less smoothly.  

Then one night, as I was putting him to bed, that random time came up.

I was brushing the hair out of his face and leaning down to kiss him goodnight when he looked into my eyes and revealed a piece of himself.  He told me, in his small shaky voice, that his friend doesn’t want to talk to him anymore.

My heart started beating faster and I could feel the heat rising to my face.  All the memories of my childhood rejections and friendship headaches flooded back and I instantly felt a sharp pain in my soul.  I was angry and sad.  I wanted to take away his pain, ask him a hundred questions, figure out what happened….just do something.  But instead of overreacting, I stayed calm and listened. 

He went on. 

He told me in a choked, trembling voice, that now that he and his friend are not in the same class, his friend--the same one he’s been friends with since they were little boys--doesn’t say hello to him in the lunch line-up.

That’s when I saw the tears streaming into his pillow. 

Suddenly I hated his friend with every fiber of my being.  The same boy who I’d had over to my house dozens of times and I had adored was now my enemy.  He’s the one that had broken my baby’s heart and at that moment I couldn’t imagine how I would ever forgive him for that. 

I struggled to find the right words to comfort my son and help him deal with this friendship struggle, which I knew was just one of many to come.  I wanted…needed...the perfect words.
I took him in my arms and kissed each tear soaked eye and told him that it was going to be okay.  I told him that I loved him, that there was nothing wrong with him and that his friendship with his friend would be fine. 

I explained that the first week of school can be tough and that his friend was probably just trying to make friends in his new class, just like he was, and with the confusion of the first days of school his friend probably didn’t even see him in line.  I reassured him that his friends love him and told him that he should try again tomorrow to say hello to his buddy.

Then I tucked him into his bed, gave him a few more kisses and said goodnight.

As I walked out of his room, I realized that even though I probably didn’t say the perfect words, I was happy that I was there to hold my baby in my arms and comfort him when he decided it was time to tell me his version of “fine.”

Sundays with Max

Saturday, September 7, 2013

You never know when you’re going to meet someone that will change your life.  Six years ago I met a man -- a wonderful, wise, and kind person who affected my life in a very special way.

My husband and I had just moved into our new house with our seven-month-old baby boy.  I was working as a lawyer for a non-profit association and trying to take care of a new baby, so life was hectic to say the least.  It felt like I was always rushing from one thing to the next, trying to make everything work.  And I thought I was almost pulling it off.  Then I found out that I was pregnant with my second child.  My son was only nine months old when I got pregnant.  It was so quick that some people at work were confused about why I was “still” pregnant.  They would ask “didn’t you just have a baby?”  Yes, I would tell them, and I am pregnant again.  It wasn’t an easy pregnancy and work was getting busier and busier.  I felt squeezed from all directions as I tried to maintain some semblance of a happy existence for my family.

It was about this time that we started having our Sunday picnics with Max, our neighbor’s father.  Bette, our wonderful neighbor, would pick him up from his retirement community every Sunday around lunch time and bring him back to her place to spend the day.  Max would sit outside in the backyard on a simple folding chair and enjoy the trees, birds and fresh air.  He would read the paper or a book and talk to Bette about life’s events from that week. 

Since our backyards were open to each other, we would see him and Bette sitting peacefully together enjoying the sunshine.  One Sunday, shortly after we noticed this ritual, we asked if we could join them.  They graciously welcomed us into their Sunday afternoon family get-together.   We grabbed a blanket, our baby boy, lots of tasty picnic food and went out to join them on the grass. 

We spent that afternoon laughing and sharing stories about our lives.  Being with them felt like home.  From that day forward, every time we saw Bette’s car coming home on Sunday afternoons, we would grab a blanket, some food and join them for a lazy Sunday picnic.  This became our favorite Sunday activity. 

It was during those afternoons that we would share things about our lives, the decisions we made or didn’t make, the doubts we had, the challenges we faced, and the joys that we experienced. 

He would tell us stories about his fascinating life and we would gobble them up with glee.  He told us about his time in the Navy during World War II and the ups and downs of his long career in the textile industry.  He talked about his love of woodworking and gardening.  He smiled as he watched the birds flying back and forth from the trees to the bird houses that Bette had put up in her small but perfectly manicured garden oasis.  

He saw us through my difficult pregnancy and watched every week as my two baby boys started talking, walking and experiencing the world around them.  Their first steps were on the grass around his feet, their first words were celebrated during an afternoon in the sun, and their giggles and tears filled the air while we shared a meal.

For six years, I saw him almost every week and shared my life with him.  I asked him advice about everything from raising a family to work challenges.  When I struggled with the decision to leave my job and stay home with my children, his words were the ones that resonated with me the most.  He was wise, and kind with his advice.

Max died a short time ago.  The news of his death filled me with a surprisingly deep sorrow.  I broke into tears often in the days that followed as I realized that he meant more to me than just a Sunday afternoon companion.  He had filled a void in my life that I didn’t know existed.  He was the grandfather that had I lost many years ago. 

What hurt the most about his passing was that I wasn’t able to tell him how much he had meant to me or thank him for sharing his life’s wisdom with me.  I will miss him very much but I’m so grateful that he came into my life in such a surprising and meaningful way. 

Let's just write

Monday, September 2, 2013

I don't know how to write a book.  I do know how to write one sentence and then another and yet another.  And that's where I'm starting.

It's so terrifying thinking about the end product and if you think too much about it you'll never accomplish your goal of actually accomplishing it.

Did you ever think about doing something you've dreamed about but never had the courage to do?  Well, you can.  Trust me, you can.  And why not start it today.  Or tomorrow. Or the next day.

Like anything that is scary, the hardest part is the starting of it.  I saw this six-year old girl on a high dive yesterday.  Paralyzed by the fear.  She was standing on the edge of the board trying to psych herself out to jump.  Her dad was standing below giving her encouraging looks.  "Just jump.  You can do it!"  He said.  She looked down at him and then at the water below and started shaking her hands in preparation.  I was mesmerized by her.  I could feel her anxiety.  The fear that grips you right before doing something that is completely outside of your comfort zone.  She stayed up there for another five minutes just staring at the water which seemed like forever for me and the crowd standing around waiting and watching her.  I can't imagine how long it seemed for her.  She finally bent her knees and jumped.  As she came out of the water, I saw her big toothless smile and I thought, wow, the exhilaration to do what you thought you couldn't.

That's how I feel about writing.  I get so scared about not being good enough.  Scared of being just a mediocre writer that is wasting her time on big dreams that will never come true.  So I don't even try because not trying means that I'll never actually have to find out if my fears are true.  Instead I just keep dreaming of the possibilities.  But just dreaming will never make anything happen.  It's the doing that makes it actually possible to get to those dreams.

So I say, let's just write and write and write some more.  Let's put it all down and work hard and see what happens.  Let's take one step forward each day.  And maybe before we know it, we'll have a reality that is like our dreams.