When I was in elementary school, there was this boy named Eric, who used to get picked on a lot. I don’t know why or how he had incurred so much wrath on the playground to be the butt of so many jokes. Looking back at pictures of him, I try to look for what made him such an obvious target to so many children. He was a cute kid – lanky and tall with a little bit of dork mixed in, like most per-adolescent kids. If I think really hard, I think that he used to pick his nose or something. Ah yes! That’s what started the teasing. As if some of my classmates weren’t picking their noses in the privacy of their own homes.
When we got to middle school, Eric was no longer there, but I recall another little boy named Carlos who was the brunt of a LOT of bullying. He was small in stature and kind of quirky. Perhaps he would have been left alone if he was more of the silent, brooding type. But no, Carlos was more like a yippy little chihuahua. He had opinions and he was loud and he didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that he was so much smaller than the rest of the boys in the class. One day, one of the “cool” kids in the class shoved Carlos into one of the hallway lockers, which he miraculously fit in and slammed the door on him. I was not there but I still remember that cruelty to this day.
I was never a bully. And I rarely joined other friends in making fun of singling out a person. But there were times that I was silent. Times where I didn’t rock the boat out of fear for what that might mean for me. Sometimes it was just easier to let guys like Eric and Carlos fend for themselves.
I do recall stepping in a time of two to defend others and getting burned along the way. I recall one time in the 6th grade as we were playing soccer during gym class that I jumped in to help out a kid who was getting picked on. I was told to shut up, because I was just a stupid Hindu. Well, that DID shut me up, and I wish now that I hadn’t ever let it.
I often think about that silence now that I am an adult. Sure, I wasn’t an instigator. But I passively accepted the belittlement of my peers more times than not by not sticking up for them. I am not proud of that.
I sometimes wonder how my classmates like Eric and Carlos fared in life. Did they bloom and thrive and find their own groups of friends who accepted them at some point in their lives? I have wondered enough where I have done Facebook searches to see if I could find them, but I was unable to.
When I was growing up, my home life was hard. Very, very hard. Most of the time I could paste a smile on my face and show up to school, do what was expected of me, hand in my homework, turn in my exams and repeat on autopilot. But there were times where my frailty showed through and I shut down, allowing the chaos at home to ease into my thoughts at school until I was so distracted I couldn’t be the ace student my teachers expected me to be.
I wonder what the home lives of children like Eric and Carlos were like. Did they have parents who knew what they went through every day? Did their parents let them know they cared? In the absence of admiration and acceptance from their peers, did they find that love in the safety of their homes? I have always hoped so.
Last week, I wrote on the blog about how my daughter, Shaila, had heard some hurtful words at school about her skin color. My pain when she recounted the event was almost visceral in nature. Your empathetic responses, the response of the school and the response of the parents of the child who said the words went far beyond apology. They were words that healed.
But what happens when people aren’t given that chance to heal? Healing requires getting the words out there to begin with, and many times, people who are tormented are ashamed and don’t recount the pain aloud.
The harsh reality is that whether it is skin color, weight, size, some crazy quirky habit that a parent has come to love, a handicap or some other uniqueness, there is always the chance that a child can be singled out in a way that isolates them and makes them question their value and lovableness. As parents, John and I are doing all we can to ensure our kids know they can talk to us about what they are going through. But I think it’s a message we need to continue to reinforce. Will they know that we will always be there for them so we can give them that support at home and build them up again? Do they know that it’s not their shame to carry if they are bullied or mocked?
We are also teaching them that silence is not always the right answer, though it might feel like the easiest one. They don’t have to fight everybody’s battles for them, but they do need to know when to raise their voices to defend a friend or someone who needs support. I am still bothered by my own silence so many years later. I wish I had done more to defend classmates who needed someone in their ring. I hope my kids never face that regret themselves. If I teach them well, hopefully they never will.
It seems odd to me that as I approach 39 years of age, the faces of boys like Carlos and Eric still come to me so clearly. I know that there is at least one on every playground, every school. I hope that there are children who stand behind them and help them when they are pushed down. Who help them stand back up again. And I hope that there are parents who give them their unconditional support and love along the way.
That they are never alone.
Peace and light to you in this brand New Year.
I had been out of town for a short work trip when my daughter, Shaila, told me what was upsetting her. I could hear that something was bothering my seven year old as she told me the details of her school day. Yes, her teacher had liked her Christmas present. Yes, she was being a good girl. Yes, she was excited about Winter break.
It was only after a little more prodding and handing off the phone to my husband, who was also accompanying me on this trip, that we were able to get at what was really bothering her.
“Um, well, today at school? My friend, Kylie* told me she doesn’t like brown people.”
John looked up at me and I could hear him weighing his words as he chose carefully what to say to our daughter, next.
“Yeah. She said she doesn’t like brown people. And she especially doesn’t like Nico because he is REALLY dark.”
Shaila’s five year old younger brother, Nico, is certainly a darker shade of brown than my daughter, but I so rarely think about it that it made me catch my breath to hear of someone’s distaste for my sweet, little son.
Because he is too brown. Too dark. Not white enough.
My heart caught in my chest and shortened my breath. I am not an idiot. I knew this day was coming at some point. I knew that one day my kids would be told, however innocently, that they were not good enough or on the other side of right, because of their skin.
When I got back on the phone with Shaila, I said the first thing that came to mind.
“Honey, you know that no matter what color a person’s skin is, we are all equal.”
“I know that, Mommy,” she said.
“And no matter what someone might say to you, you can never judge anybody based on the color of their skin.” I said this absolutely, allowing no room for argument.
“I know that too, Mommy. I’m just really sad,” she said, despondently.
My heart broke for her as I thought about the weight of those words on her little shoulders. Words that made her feel inferior. Words about her brother that made her confused and hurt.
“No matter what anyone ever says to you, you have to know that the color of your skin doesn’t mean anything about what kind of person you are. And I want you to know that no matter what you might feel, and what Kylie’s words made you feel, she is the one with the problem. Not you. NOT you.”
I couldn’t see her over the phone but I imagined her resigned nod.
“When I get home, we’ll talk more about this, ok? I know that you know this, but you should never like someone or dislike someone because of what they look like or because they are different from you.”
“I know that, Mommy,” she sounded stronger when she said it this time.
I wanted to say more, but I could feel my voice cracking and my composure going a little. We hung up with me assuring her that I loved her. But I wished that I had been there on this day to help her through this experience alongside her.
My kids are five and seven years old. Sadly, this isn’t the first time they have even heard words of prejudice or intolerance. Less than two years ago, while they had been playing in our front yard, a group of young boys walked up to both of my children mocking them with the words in a mangled Indian accent, “Hurry, hurry – get your curry!” Both of my kids had just looked confused, but unbeknownst to the boys, I had heard their words and their laughter as they continued down the street.
At the time, my son was three and my daughter was five. The dagger in my heart didn’t draw blood, though it felt like it had.
I had to think carefully about the words my husband and I say to our daughter about this situation. The same way I am going to think carefully about how I might approach this with my daughter’s teacher, to make her aware of the words that were used in her classroom a few days ago and how they dampened my daughter’s spirit. I know the school already messages very strongly about inclusion and embracing differences, and I am certain she would want to know that this took place.
This wasn’t the first time and I am fairly certain this won’t be the last time that my children encounter words of intolerance and ignorance. At the same time though, the world can be a brutal place and I know I would have to teach them this lesson at some point. I just wish that Shaila could have worn her rose-tinted glasses for a little longer.
I try to explain to my kids how boring this world would be if we all were the same. I am happy to say that I think they get that. You don’t have to be brown to understand what I felt that day my daughter related what happened to her at school. All the unique things we love about our children can also be the target of someone else’s disdain.
It’s up to us to remember as parents that we have to make them love and embrace those very differences which make them stand out today. For those differences are exceptional and need to be accepted, explored and held up proudly by our children. While they hurt, these character building experiences have to be handled in a way which won’t cause shame to our children, but makes them proud. In a way that makes them hold their heads up a little higher and backs a little straighter.
The world may not always give our children what we think they need, but we can always take what the world gives them and shape that experience for them so they can learn from it.
So bring it, world. We’re ready.
* Names have been changed to protect the young child that said this to my daughter.
The holidays are here and I am overwhelmed by all the things. All the things we have to do. All the things we have to check off. All the things we have to buy. I think somewhere along the way, I am expected to also cook some things. Bummer. It’s just, all the things.
But as I stumble and trip over all these things in my mind, I am also stumbling over all the things that we do have in our life quite literally. The things that we have accrued over the years which find themselves strewn all over our house. Which seems quite large, but never large enough for all these darn things we keep acquiring.
I’d like to say we live a simple life, but I’d be a liar. I have never been good at editing down the things that we have and while I feel like I am in a never ending cycle of giving things to charity to streamline the closets that seem to be overflowing, there somehow always seems to be more things around the corner. More clothes. More toys. More shit we just don’t need.
And now Christmas is here and my kids think they have been really good all year (which is an entirely different blog post altogether) and are expecting, you guessed it. More and more THINGS.
And while I want my children to be excited about the holiday and while I want them to run down the stairs with excitement and anticipation in every little step as they run towards the tree on Christmas morning, I want them to be less focused on the things. The new things. The shiny things. All the carefully wrapped things.
But how can I expect that from them, when all I’ve ever done is give them more and more things? They have never wanted for anything that I can really think of. Closets full of clothes, toy chests that are never empty, bookshelves that are overflowing with beautiful words. They have been fortunate in this life to never come face to face with the true meaning of “need”. Instead, they are children who mistakenly believe that “want” and “need” are the same things. I have allowed that. My husband and I have given them a life so far removed from the life that I lived as a child and one that’s planets away from the hard lives our parents faced before us.
They are children of privilege. They are children who know, have and expect things. I can explain to them that the holidays are not about receiving things but about giving things, but they are 5 and 7 and I fear that while they will nod along like they understand, they probably won’t understand all that well if they don’t find more of the things they are expecting underneath the tree.
A part of me wants to explain to them that Santa isn’t going to be there for every child, whether that child has been naughty or nice. I want to explain that “Santa” isn’t a part of the vocabulary of many of the children in this world, regardless of their faith. That for these children, there is no special day where their innocence and grace and virtue is acknowledged by presents and coveted things.
I want to explain this to them, but another part of me struggles with how to explain this to them. How do you explain that while my daughter is up on her bed the night before Christmas, sleeping lightly because of the anticipation of all the new toys and treats that await her when she wakes, that other children around the world are praying for the next meal? Praying for water or clothes or the love of a lost parent? Maybe just plain survival?
The things we really need.
I’m not sure how to get there but this Christmas, I’d like the biggest present that my children receive to be the lesson of grace. I haven’t fully thought out how to deliver that lesson yet, but I think it goes something like this:
Grace is not in the material things we surround ourselves with but resides in the spirits of the people we love and who love us.
Grace is not in the receiving, but in the giving.
Grace in giving comes with giving freely, without needing acknowledgement.
Grace can come in the smallest and most unexpected packages.
Grace may not always be something you can touch, but if your mind and heart are open, it is something you can always feel.
Grace might not be in the addition of things to your life, but in the act of recognizing the many gifts you already have in your life.
I have a lot of lesson planning to do before I get this right this year. Friends, are any of you struggling with how to send the right message to your children this holiday? Is anyone interested in helping me plan what this lesson truly looks like? Because I really think I could use some help with this right about now.
I am going to be honest. I have not watched “12 Years a Slave.” I mean to. I really do. But every time it comes down to committing to watching it, I just can’t make myself do it.
I have also not watch “Django.” Or “The Kite Runner.” Or “Rabbit Wire Fence.” Really anything that will make me cry. Ugly, heaving cries.
By the way, did I ever tell you about the time I read “The Kite Runner”? I was on a plane from Washington Dulles to San Diego and I was almost 7 months pregnant. I add that last fact in only to make you think that my hormones might have lead to some of my response to that book. In truth, it probably would not have made much of a difference. I sobbed on the plane reading that book. Like, sobs that made the other passengers sitting next to me uncomfortable. I tried to muffle my sorrow, but the tears flowed like tiny rivers down my face, landing in smudgy little drops on the pages of the book as I read.
For months afterwards, my mind would replay certain scenes from that book and I would find myself fighting tears again. I would drift off to bed at night with the last thought being of the horrible child rape scene in the book.
That was just from reading a book.
I want to watch hard things. I really do. I want to watch movies that touch on the most horrible human brutality. I want to watch movies that show me the state of a world I don’t know, like “Hotel Rwanda.”
But then again. I don’t.
I am a very visual person. I don’t forget what I see. It’s why I can’t watch horror movies either. When I was 7, I saw the movie “Poltergeist.” To this day, I still can remember every graphic, twisted and disturbing scene from that movie. 7 was a long time ago. But my mind, and my heart, still hold on.
A few months ago, a good friend of mine posted something on Facebook about how important it is that people watch movies like “12 Years a Slave.” After all, we have a choice to watch a movie about it while fellow humans didn’t have a choice and had to actually live it. I understood exactly where she was coming from, but again, I knew that I wasn’t going to be sitting down any time soon with that movie.
I am a sensitive person. I do not think I am necessarily more sensitive than other people, the only thing I know how to explain is how I feel. When I watch a movie like that, it takes an emotional toll on me, one that I am not that quick to bounce back from. It weighs on me and exhausts me and pulls me down under the heavy weight of it. I feel helpless, I feel angry, I feel empathy, I feel pain. My heart wants to burst. And I sit there and my mind replays things. Again and again and again. The movie doesn’t end in my mind, even after the final credits have run.
I know that terrible atrocities occur every day in this world. But I can’t always watch and listen and read about them. I don’t want to go running towards the opposite end of the spectrum and sit with my feet up on the couch catching up on “The Kardashians” which munching on popcorn, but I do know that I have a threshold for how much human pain and suffering I can expose myself to before I start to become an emotional wreck who wants to be an activist for every social cause I feel any passion for.
When something like the horrible factory collapse happened in Bangladesh a year and a half ago happened, which left laborers basically dying in a massive coffin, people around the world were angry and sad. I was one of them. I cried and I imagined what it must have been like for the people in that building. I built stories in my mind about the children they undoubtedly left behind. I imagined “Slumdog Millionaire” type scenarios in my mind about what was to become of the orphaned children.
That’s how I process things. And in some ways, it is extreme.
You know, I know that in some ways I’m a coward. But I also think that I am very much a realist. I know how much I can emotionally take and process without putting myself in a state of paralysis.
Yesterday, the internet (ok, hardly) almost damn near broke because of Kim Kardashian’s ass being on display. And then it almost broke again (ok, not really) when photos of her entire naked body were revealed. And it’s kind of sad that there are so many things going on in this world that we should be talking about and addressing, but every person on the internet was most likely exposed to some aspect of Kimmy K.’s nudity yesterday.
I think our fascination with all the fluff is because we can’t, in my best Jack Nicholson voice, “handle the truth.” The truth is hard. The truth is scary. The truth is so much more painful to process sometimes then looking to see what the favorite reality star du jour is wearing (or not). Sometimes avoiding the truth is a result of pure apathy, but sometimes, it’s the exact opposite of apathy that makes people steer clear of it. Why should we talk about the impact of the Ebola scare on the rest of Africa when we can take about Blake Lively being pregnant? Why should we talk about the sex trade in Thailand when Rihanna is back on Instagram.
As I re-read this before I hit “publish” the thought that comes to me is that I really am going to make an effort to embrace watching emotionally challenging things, no matter how hard it might be. I think it’s okay to feel a little wounded and have your heart be more sore. It’s okay if you have to cry and push yourself a little harder to try to place yourself in someone’s very uncomfortable shoes. But…it’s also okay if you just can’t.
“Empathy is really the opposite of spiritual meanness. It’s the capacity to understand that every war is both won and lost. And that someone else’s pain is as meaningful as your own.” Barbara Kingsolver
This one’s an oldie but a goodie. I hope you enjoy!
My kids are little toothpicks. Skinny, all lean limbed with very little body fat on them. I don’t like it. I wish they were, I don’t know. Meatier? Chubbier? When they get sick, they quickly lose what little weight they already have and fall into the 0-5 percentile on the charts that they show you at the Doctor’s office.
Those charts are a little silly, don’t you think? A child’s height and weight is going to be some indicator of health, but you can’t abide too much by those charts. I mean, they are comparing my little children to the rest of the American population. Since my background is Indian and my husband’s is Italian and Puerto Rican, it would be much more accurate if they compared my kids to other kids who are:
1/4 Puerto Rican
But that’s hard to do. And since America is a melting pot of cultures, we are a melting pot of genetic makeup as well.
A lot of times my kids aren’t even on the chart.
“Zero Percent?” I ask at the Doctor’s office. “What the hell does that even mean?” Can you even exist at 0%? Do they have a negative scale, like -5 – 0%, -10 to -5%? I mean, WTF? How do you categorize all the 0% kids? (These are the questions that keep me up at night, apparently).
We do feed them. I promise. If anything we try to give them fattier foods to put some meat on the bones. The net result of that is that John, me and Heather, our Au Pair, all gain weight while the kids stubbornly hold their positions at their 0 – 10% mark.
I try not to worry about it. I mean, they are healthy kids. Just little.
John gets freaked out about it more than me. I try to remind him of what both of us looked like in our childhood pictures. Not that different from our kids in that way.
Gangly, stick figured like. You could see my ribs till I was about ten. I had teeth that were too big for my face, until I was about 20. Then I remind John about his mullet, which has nothing to do with being skinny, but it’s still important that we humiliate each other about these things.
Seeing how freaked out John gets reminds me of how concerned my own parents used to be about it when I was younger.
“Yeh kitni skinny hai?” (She is so skinny!) an auntie would say while literally squeezing what flesh I had off of my cheekbones, shaking my head from side to side. “Khahti he?” (Does this little punk eat?)
“Ha, lekin kya karenge? Khaathi hai nahin, na? Oos par bhi, zero percent mai hai!” (Yes, but what are we going to do? Bitch never eats. She’s in the zero percent.)
“Arey, zero percent hai bhi? Kaise, kya baat?” (What, they have a zero percent? I always wondered what they did to those little bastards!)
My parents would take me to the doctors. They were sure something was wrong with me. My pediatrician, Doctor Rahill, who oddly reminded me of a mix of Mr. Rogers and Steve Winwood, would tell them again and again that I was fine.
Finally, Dr. Rahill just broke down under the weight of my parents’ constant concerns over my weight and their good for nothing visits. I always got the feeling that he wanted to shake them and say, “I mean hello, there are starving children in India!” Instead, he suggested that my mother just give me the most fattening foods we had on hand. And basically to give me what I wanted to eat.
“But aahll she vaunts to eat is potahto chip and ice cur-ream. Vhat ca-an I do?” My mom asked.
“I like bacon. And pepperoni,” I volunteered, quietly from the examination table.
“VHAT?” my mom asked.
“Bacon. Pepperoni. I love that,” I said, piping up this time. My mother was giving me “the look.” But I didn’t care.
In unison, both Dr. Rahill and my mother spoke.
“That’s great! Bacon and pepperoni will put some meat on her bones,” said Dr. Rahill, happy with the solution. I think he even gave my mom a prescription that said, bacon.
“Ay, hey Raam! Hey Raam!” (Oh, my lord Raam. How did you give me this child of the demon, Raavana?) my mother said with her hands on her forehead, shaking her head in disbelief.
My parents do NOT eat beef. They do NOT eat pork. My parents think that eating pigs is like, the grossest idea in the world. Because pigs will eat everything. And so if you eat a pig, you are eating everything. I mean, there is an accepted analogy that is used in popular culture that even talks about pigs in conjunction with shit. Examples are:
“Kate was like a pig in shit when she got those tickets to see Neil Diamond!”
“Brad was like a pig in shit when his “Penthouse Magazine” got delivered earlier than expected!”
It’s so gross for them, that it’s like how I imagine I would feel if someone told me I had to eat horse meat. Or my neighbors’ little kitty cat down the street. Or watch “Full House” reruns all day.
A little like N to the O.
Hell to the NO.
So here is my mom, with basically a prescription to just let me eat shit, like literally, SHIT, in her mind. She went to Food-Town, dragging me by the arm and muttering under her breath, where she threw a few packs of bacon into the cart. She threw in a stick of pepperoni for good measure. I’m surprised she didn’t throw it at my head, to be honest. When touching these packets, she did it gingerly with her fingers, as if to minimize contamination. She then went to the drugstore and bought those face masks. You know, they kind you might wear in a hospital, while painting, protecting yourself from disease.
OR about to serve shit to your kids.
It was like she was packing to go to war. A soldier. Armed only with some packs of Smithfield brand cured meats.
We got home and the first thing she did was open ALL the windows. She turned on the attic fan. She put on her mask and brand new plastic gloves and was finally prepared.
This was turning out to be quite the operation.
With the exhaust fan running on the stove, my masked mother made me a whole pack of bacon. She never cooked bacon so she didn’t know what it was supposed to look like, but I remember it being really burnt. She also didn’t know what a serving was, so she made me a whole pack in one sitting. The smell was noxious to her. “Oh Gawd” she muttered over and over again, slightly muffled through the mask, as I joyfully inhaled the sweetest scent of burning fat.
And so I sat at that table, in heaven. Eating a plate full of bacon that was burnt beyond recognition. Sitting in the small kitchen of my childhood home in the freezing cold. Like a pig in shit, I couldn’t have been happier.
I will never forget the taste of that bacon.
Parents make sacrifices for their kids every day. In that moment, on that day, I never really considered how challenging it might have been for my mother to do those things to make me happy. There are moments when I parent now that a memory will strike me from out of the blue and I will think to myself, “Did I even say ‘thank you?'” As a sometimes overly angst-ridden individual, I seem to remember the times my parents and I have been at odds with each other, and I focus on those.
But in these other things? These memories that go beyond money, ceremonies, celebrations or accomplishments?
There is a richness in them that I sometimes forget.
But one blast of the smell of bacon, even today, 30 years later, and I am right back there. At that table. Goosebumps on my arms.
Saying thank you.
“I don’t know what it is about food your mother makes for you, especially when it’s something that anyone can make – pancakes, meat loaf, tuna salad – but it carries a certain taste of memory.” – Mitch Albom
I haven’t felt compelled to create anything in a while. This both saddens me and relieves me; in my past the pull to write or make music was so strong sometimes that I would find myself endlessly frustrated when I didn’t have the time to devote to crafting something. Lately, time is not on my side. I find myself so busy with work and family that I can hardly close my eyes fully at night for fear that I have forgotten just one more thing. When I do find those glimpses of free time between conference calls, getting deliverables done and running to the next meeting, I find myself sucked into nothing worthwhile. Mostly I troll Facebook. I refresh my feed a lot because I don’t have much time to spare and I want only the “newest” news.
Yes, I use the term news loosely.
The reality is that my schedule has caught up with me. I bring work to bed. I wake up early to jump on early transcontinental calls. I go to parent-teacher conferences and feel like a bad parent, because no, I missed the email about the age appropriate books the teacher is recommending the class reads. What email about the system where I can check up on her Science progress? Darn, I must have missed that one too.
No matter how much I run, whenever I feel like I catch up, I am still far off the mark. Because.
There is always one more thing.
These one more things add up quickly to become a whole shit load of things that I need to conquer in my life. When you are sitting with all of the one more things, they weigh on you and it’s hard to be creative. Your creativity feels like a luxury that you can no longer afford. The one more things cross your mind again and again. This things that are due tomorrow at one end of your brain and the unsettling call you had with your client occupying the other end. It’s damn near impossible to find the creative energy to then shift gears when the weight of one more things is weighing you down.
To take it a step further, it’s hard not to feel guilt when you do something that’s just for you. Sure, once the kids are in bed, go for it. If you aren’t already ready to crumble in a heap on the sofa or fall lifeless on your bed.
Where once there were ideas, there is now silence. Where once I could push myself creatively at a much more aggressive pace, I can no longer do that. I already feel like a wobbly and sloppily placed string of dominoes. I feel like adding more pressure to produce creatively right now will send those dominoes tumbling.
How do you pull yourself out of situations like this so that you can still create, write and find joy in the things you love that selfishly, are really only for you? How do you get beyond feeling suffocated by all the one more things without drugging yourself heavily and find the time to work on your craft?
I am not sure. My questions are not rhetorical. I genuinely want to feed my soul by writing and songwriting more and I truly don’t know how to work myself out of this space where I feel so confined and creatively ensnared.
How do you find the time around your responsibilities to still find time for creativity? What do you sacrifice as a result? If you’ve given up on your creative pursuits because of the weight of one more things, how do you feel about it?
There are times in life where I feel like it’s easier to be hard on ourselves than forgiving; when it’s easier to point out all our shortcomings than to accept that we are truly exceptional at some things. Lately, I have been finding myself going through this and I am having a hard time coming out on the other side of it.
A few years ago, I went through something that caused a great deal of emotional turmoil for me. It seems like it was so long ago in some ways, like yesterday in others, but let’s just say that I have never fully recovered from the emotional roller coaster ride I experienced over the next few years.
I found myself doubting myself in ways that I had never doubted myself before. I lost my voice. Instead of the loud, commanding one I used to confidently wield, I found myself retreating, uncomfortable with the sound of my voice or my words. I had become a timid shell of myself. In an effort to anesthetize, I drank too much and made bad hair decisions, none of which helped elevate my confidence.
That doubt made its way into the many corners of my life, working its way into all of the areas I felt encompassed me as a person. It permeated through what I thought I knew about myself and made me question everything.
Where was I in my life? What had I really accomplished? Was I successful? Was I doing something that I thought was valuable? Hell, was I valuable?
The thing with doubt is that it’s a powerful thing. It worms its way into your head and can make you think the darnedest things about yourself. You start to stumble in areas where you once sailed by. People who once thought your capabilities were limitless start to doubt you too, for doubt can be contagious. After all, if it’s obvious you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?
A few weeks ago, I had my twentieth High School Reunion. I think that having this coincide with a time in my life where I didn’t feel like my feet were grounded firmly in the ground was not the easiest thing, but life is not perfect and I understand that most of my fellow classmates must have their own crap that they have to navigate. I felt like I was really, really hard on myself on the weeks leading up to the event.
Nothing was right.
I didn’t feel or look my best.
I was not altogether satisfied with where I am in my career.
I questioned whether I was a good mother.
Everything was under a microscope – not by anybody else, but by me.
I used to be in Project Management and one of the things you always have to manage towards on projects is scope creep. Making sure that the client doesn’t try to expand the breadth of the project beyond what is committed in the contract. Scope creep always happens. It’s human nature to want to push the boundaries to see how much more you can get out of something. But I was starting to realize that the expectations I placed against myself were seriously verging on a different kind of scope creep, because nobody had ever defined the scope of what I was supposed to be.
I think the standards that I started to set for myself were unrealistic and overwhelming. I was setting myself up for failure and disappointment. Making mental comparisons with others where it was inevitable that I would fall short, forever focusing on what I lacked versus what I had.
When I take a step back and regain perspective, I always come back with the same conclusion.
You’re so goddamn hard on yourself.
And it’s not doing anybody any favors. Particularly myself.
I think that it comes down to this. It’s one thing to set a bar for yourself on standards you wish to maintain in your life, but it’s another to set the bar so high that you can never enjoy what you have. The journey to getting what we want in life can be a rich one, but it starts to lose it’s luster when all you see is the ever changing destination and you don’t allow yourself to enjoy the fact that you may have already arrived.
So I’m working on that. Working on cutting myself the same slack that I cut for others who touch my life. Perfection is overrated and the quest to achieve it is exhausting, frustrating and ultimately, unattainable.
Sometimes, the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is acknowledge, that we are, in fact, enough. So much more than enough.
I don’t really like reading parenting books. Hate ‘em. I do. As a matter of fact, I would say I still have parenting book “burn out” several years after I tried unsuccessfully to do any of the following:
a. Have a panic free pregnancy after reading enough pregnancy books to know how large my unborn child was relative to fruit on any day of my pregnancy (i.e. your child is now the size of a baby kumquat).
b. Breast feed any of my children for more than four weeks after reading every single book I could find on stress-free breastfeeding. All of which stressed me out more and inversely reduced my milk supply.
c. Get my kids to sleep. I tried every strategy that The Baby Whisperer had to offer me and I tried so hard to have The Happiest Baby on the Block but the results were temporary at best and the ever present circles underneath my eyes indicated just how successful I was at employing the tactics. Although I was an awesome swaddler. I could swaddle a baby like nobody’s business.
Unfortunately, my kids are seven and five now and while I would love to still swaddle them, I think that this might be considered child abuse. Though I think that would be really cute. And handy, too, especially when they are out of line.
The thing is, if you have a friend who is an award winning parenting expert, chances are, another parenting book is going to find its way into your hands. Even if those hands are a little scared. And not ready to clutch another book full of parenting wisdom close to your already bruised parenting ego.
When Deborah’s book, “Get the Behavior You Want, Without Being the Parent You Hate” came in the mail, I admired the cover and thought to myself, “Wow, look at how great her arms look on the cover!” I smiled back at her beautiful face and oohed and aahed over the reviews on the back cover.
But it took me a few days to open it. Not because I don’t need it. I do. In our household we very consistently don’t get the behavior we want and we totally loathe ourselves as parents on some days. No, we most certainly needed it.
I wasn’t ready to take on another failure. I wasn’t ready to read another book which I would get so excited about, only to learn that while these strategies could work, they would just not work for me.
Here’s why parenting books generally don’t work for me:
a. I have no follow through.
b. No matter what I do or how I say it, the recommended advice does not get the results I want with my kids and I just end up yelling and screaming like a banshee. (Don’t do that, it never works).
c. They don’t have the same evocative plot twists as say Breaking Bad on Netflix. Because Breaking Bad will win. (Even re-runs).
So, here’s the good news about Deborah’s book. Unlike so many other parenting books, it is not overwhelming and it’s not some insurmountable tome that is painful to get through. The best way to describe reading this book? It’s like your practical older sister looking you in the eye and giving you advice about all the daunting things we face as parents. While having tea. Or maybe a glass of wine.
She’s funny and pragmatic. I think being a family physician for many years has given her a great perspective on understanding the challenges of parenting. Of course, having four boys of her own might help a little bit with her credibility too.
The book also doesn’t have to be read in one long sitting. It’s meant to be more of a roadmap for when you are navigating some difficult situations. Which is helpful, because who has time for that, yo?
I especially love the emphasis on respect throughout the book. Having respect for your children, but also teaching children self-respect by being someone who walks the walk and talks the talk. Without developing that core balance of respect between children and parents, it becomes really hard to move forward and see progress in correcting behaviors if the fundamental core of respect is not stable.
I ultimately want to raise socially conscious, respectful, smart, self-motivated children. I think this book is one of the few that touches on how to do this in a practical and attainable manner.
I now keep this book by my bedside table every night and I read a chapter or two, that pertains to what we are going through as a family and I usually glean some great advice and insight every time I do that. And by reading in small sections, I am more likely to put the lessons into action.
I wholeheartedly agree with Jill Smokler, aka Scary Mommy, who said, “Thank you, Dr. G, for giving me the only book on parenting that I don’t want to chuck out the window!”
I totally agree with Jill. Despite my parenting book burn out, this book is here to stay and I will be buying several copies for friends too. Who will probably give me dirty looks because they will assume I think they are a bad parent. But then they will read the book and forget they were ever upset with me, so it will all work out in the end.
Read more about Deborah Gilboa, MD, aka Dr. G at AskDoctorG.
My daughter lost her first tooth the other day. It was a really momentous occasion, because you only lose your first tooth once and you’ll always remember the day you got your first memento from the Tooth Fairy.
Seeing her lose her tooth made me nostalgic for my own first lost tooth. I remember that the Tooth Fairy gave me four dollars. That was a lot of freaking money for a tooth when I was 7 years old. But then after that, she really didn’t deliver, often forgetting my next few lost teeth or sometimes downgrading me to a quarter or two.
Bitch set me up for disappointment.
John wasn’t home yesterday to see Shaila’s excitement over losing her teeth and I felt sad for him because if you don’t know already, John loves teeth. His own glimmery, pearly white teeth always stand out in his smiles. He smiles all the freaking time, which I think is directly related to the fact that he is a show off and he wants people to see his teeth.
It is no coincidence that John is a model for our Dentist’s office. His face lines the walls of the office, the brochures and even the website. I guess my teeth didn’t make the grade, because I don’t remember them asking me to join John on this modeling venture.
That’s ok, when I go to the Dentist’s office, I try to do inappropriate things in front of or to his picture. In the picture below, I appear to be mounting the shot of him in the reception hall. The Doctor’s staff understands because they know he travels a lot.
My kids are neither as enthralled by their father’s teeth or about his appearance in our dentist office. Ok, maybe Shaila is a little excited. I think Nico could give a rat’s ass.
So, yeah. We’re a teeth family. I would dare to say that everybody has much better dental hygiene habits than me because John is just so darn particular about the whole twice a day thing and forces all of us to do it, while I take whatever shortcuts I can.
In fact, the kids went to bed tonight without brushing their teeth. I went in to check and they are still very much alive, in spite of my utter negligence. Regardless, I know this will throw John into a panic if he reads it.
While Shaila was living out the excitement of losing her tooth last night, I couldn’t help but remember another story about a lost tooth from none other than the man I love.
You see, when John was younger, he and his brother, Anthony, shared a room. John was a year older than Anthony and perhaps the best way to describe John in comparison to Anthony was that John was a greedy little Alex P. Keaton type character, always out to make a buck and Anthony was more of the sharing kind, always willing to share his buck. In the end, John always ended up with more of Anthony’s money than poor Anthony.
It was a matter of survival of the greediest.
One time, John lost his tooth and wanted to make sure that the Tooth Fairy didn’t accidentally give his hard earned money to Anthony, who we would probably just have to steal it from anyway. So he wrote her a note. I don’t remember all the words, but it went something like this:
“Dear Mrs. Tooth Fairy,
I have lost my tooth. I have left it under my pillow and I look forward to receiving my prize. I would appreciate if you would leave my prize under my pillow so I can find it in the morning. Thank you.
John Philip Ferrandino
P.S. I am the dark one”
My husband was so paranoid that she would give the money to the wrong brother that he had to point out that he was “the dark one.”
We have many more teeth to lose in this house and a lot more memories to make. We also have a lot of our own childhood stories to revisit like how my parents used to make me attach a string to my loose tooth and continually yank at it until it came out, all bloody and gross.
If you happen to go to Broadlands Dentistry in Ashburn, VA, look for my husband on the walls.
He will be easy to find. He is the dark one.
That’s right. My skin color falls somewhere between a cappuccino and a latte. During the summers, it can borderline hot chocolate, depending on how much time I can log under the sun.
When you’re Indian, and I imagine a lot of other ethnicities or races, there is a lot of pressure to stay on the lighter side of the spectrum. My sun loving tendencies and my thousands of hours of running cross country for years of my life often turned my vanilla latte skin into a caramel macchiato.
(Excuse me. Apparently I am thirsty and craving caffeine as I write this).
My husband’s ethnic background is half Puerto Rican and half Italian. The end result is that my lovely children have also turned out a beautiful shade of brown.
When I was a child, I didn’t ever think there was anything wrong with being brown. I just knew that I was different. Different enough that when I walked into a store with my parents or went into a restaurant with them, we were often so unwelcome that our only option was to ultimately walk out to steely eyed glances and unfriendly stares.
After a while, I did start to feel wrong.
It wasn’t just my skin color that felt wrong. After some time, it was the stuff that I thought that was so cool and special about my family that I started to realize fell somewhere on the “weird” spectrum that most of my classmates evaluated their peers on.
Let’s review the facts.
My mom wore a dot on her head.
She didn’t own a single pair of jeans. She was too busy embarrassing me with a closet full of salwar kameezes.
My parents didn’t talk like other parents in my New Jersey neighborhood. Most parents had a Brooklyn accent. My parents’ accent wasn’t even recognizable in New Delhi.
They didn’t blend. Well, they blended if they made an effort.
Just between you and me, they really didn’t make much of an effort.
I spent a lot of my childhood coincidentally being brown (funny how some traits don’t easily leave you) while being mortified of all the other things that made me different from the rest of my classmates.
I also spent my childhood extremely aware of the sacrifices and awkward adjustments my parents made to live a life in this country and to give me a better life as a result of this. On one side of this scale was the embarrassment of disenfranchisement, but tipping that scale more than not was an enormous amount of pride in who my parents were – in their own unique individuality and an appreciation for the chances their sacrifices had given me.
I know that sometimes people think that people of race have a stick up our asses. We are sometimes overly sensitive to matters of race. We can be highly suspicious of statistics that tell us repeatedly that there is something incredibly imbalanced in our justice system. When we get pulled over, and we pull down the rear view mirror to watch the approach of the officer, the thought will most likely go through our heads, “Is this in any way related to what I look like?”
Perhaps I don’t speak for every person of race when I say the above, but I know that I speak for myself.
This sensitivity combined with my own awareness that my family was not always treated the same way as other families made me angry. Perhaps as a child, I lacked the authority to do much more than accept it. But as I got older, perhaps around when I went to college, the passive acceptance stopped.
This was much to my parents’ mortification. I mean if I was the one embarrassed before, they were freaking ready to run in the opposite direction from me. And that says a lot, because they both have bad knees.
If we went to a restaurant and didn’t receive service or were ignored while other patrons were treated respectfully, you better believe I was going to have a word with the manager. Many words. They were sometimes loud and angry words.
If we walked into a store and were not given service while salespeople scurried over to less mochalicious patrons, you better believe I would pull off my best Julia Roberts’ imitation before I left. “Oh you didn’t want to help me? Big mistake. Big, BIG mistake.”
The humor of that was lost on my parents who unfortunately, have never watched Pretty Woman.
If anyone so much as looked at my parents the wrong way, I would tighten my jaw and stare those bastards into the ground with my glare of doom. Those jerks never stood a chance.
Perhaps we weren’t always the victims of racism. Perhaps we were the on the wrong end of laziness or targeting which just coincidentally seemed to be directed at only us.
I just know what I know.
I know what it is to have bricks thrown through my windows with words that say, “Go Home.” Ok, just call me E.T. then.
I know what it’s like to have people scream racial epithets at my parents in front of my own eyes when I couldn’t have been older than eight.
I know what it’s like to have the eyes of the saleswoman follow me, as she trails after me through the store, never asking if I need help, but daring me to stay any longer.
When you’re born a certain way and you have had enough encounters in your life where you are treated a certain way, you start to trust a little less.
It makes you wonder what people see when they see you. Do they see me? Or do they see my awesome mochaliciousness? I think when you are a person of race, you can never escape from the fact your ethnicity may be the first evaluating factor that people might judge or even dismiss you on.
The brown doesn’t wash away. Race will always play a role in my life, whether I want it to or not. I wish it wouldn’t, but I have accepted it.
What I have yet to accept is people who don’t understand why there needs to be a dialogue about this. I know that there will always be the ones who throw the bricks and scream the epithets, but what scares me more are the people who make excuses for those people, or worse, who choose to ignore it and the implications.
“I guarantee you that every person of color in this country has faced an indignity, from the ridiculous to the grotesque to the sometimes fatal, at some point in their…I’m going to say last couple of hours, because of their skin color. Race is there, and it is a constant. You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how ****ing exhausting it is living it.” – Jon Stewart