Thursday, September 17, 2009

Charts from Hell and Crossing Guard Therapy

G-d must have a really great day when she/he created crossing guards. At least when Millie, our crossing guard, was brought into this world. If not for her, I would never have survived Tuesday morning. If life had a rewind button, by 8:05 a.m., I would have worn it out.

Tuesday morning was a disaster. To say that getting three girls out the door, not to mention one mama to work, is not an easy task would be the understatement of the century. Getting three girls and one mama out the door when there's only one functioning bathroom takes some planning. We have shower charts, chore charts, music practice charts, pretty much charts for about everything. But still the mornings are chaotic and stressful. So, after a particularly difficult Friday morning, I came up with what I thought was the chart of all charts, the chart to top the charts. In other words, I had created the holy grail of charts.
The concept was simple and based on something near and dear to our family's heart - baseball. We watch a lot of baseball and almost exclusively, the Colorado Rockies. What makes the Rockies such a pleasure to watch is the remarkable lack of ego display and overall inspiring team effort. I want our family to be like the Rockies. And I want to be as calm and collected as Rockies Manager, Jim Tracy. And with these two goals in mind, I created the Home Run Morning Chart with four easy steps to encourage self-responsibility and to reduce the over-dependence on Mama as our household morning Sisyphus, pushing my family up the hill to their day and having no energy for my own day.

I picked up the color laminated charts and explained the concept to the girls. Every morning you can hit a home run by just doing four things without any prompting, nagging or more likely, yelling from Mama. Choose to not do one of the tasks and and you lose the chance to hit a home run. Hit a home run every school day and the team will win a prize.

Monday went smoothly. So smoothly that we even did the Rockies high five line before we left for school and work. And then Tuesday happened. Or didn't. And I was not a happy camper. To keep the sports analogy, I was more like Billy Martin or Bobby Knight. Not a great start to the day.

I won't go into the details - they're too ugly and too exhausting to recount. All I can say is that by the time I dropped the girls off at school, their heads were hanging low and all of us had red noses and eyes from crying. No one, including me, was going to hit a home run that morning.
I parked the car near school and we waited at the corner for our crossing guard to signal that it was safe to cross. The four of us walked across the street, said our teary good-byes and I sent the three on their way, feeling pretty crummy that all of our days had started out in such a bad way.

As I crossed back across the street, Millie, our much beloved crossing guard, asked me if I was all right. Millie is from the Bronx, is a mother and grandmother and has lived in the neighborhood for over 20 years. She sees everything and doesn't miss a trick. She gives the kids candy on Halloween and Valentine's Day and comforted me on the first day back at school after my dad died. If all that was not enough, Millie is the only person I've ever known who can get my ex-New Yorker husband to wait at the corner and stop a lifetime habit of jaywalking. She's a classic, real New Yorker, gruff and soft, warm and funny. So when she asked me if I was all right, I knew I could give her the real answer.

She slowly nodded her head and told me it was going to be all right. She'd been through the same with her kids, and even though it was perfectly normal, it was important to set the bar high and hold them accountable. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, tomorrow will be better. And I believed her. In less than two minutes, Millie had restored my belief that hard mornings get easier and to not take it all so seriously, but to commit seriously to the work of being a good parent.

I've been in lots of therapy. Talk, somatic, rebirthing, couples and lots in between. I believe in therapy as a a kind of personal oil change that I seem to need once every decade. But I'd never had Crossing Guard Therapy and I've got to say, it worked like a charm.

By the time I picked up the girls from school that afternoon, we were back to our usual selves. We talked about what had gone wrong that morning. I told the girls that while Monday was a high five effort, we had to remember that one game doesn't make a season. What makes a season is showing up for each of the 162 days with the same attitude as the first day of the season. And I realized that besides the immediate need of more order, less chaos and an easier time for me in the morning, the larger lesson I'm trying to impart is how important it is to show up for yourself. In Judaism, the first prayer of the day is one of thanks for the opportunity to have another day to live, make mistakes, love and all the rest: Modah Ani Lefanecha, Ruach Chai, Vekayom. Another chance to show up and try to get it right for yourself, your loved ones and the world.

By Wednesday morning, we were back on track, just like Rockies' gut-wrenching win after two horrendous losses. No high five line, but when Millie asked me how the morning had gone, the smiles on all our faces was all the answer she needed.

Thank you, Millie - for delivering my kids and all the other kids who've been lucky enough to cross your street to school with safety, love and that watchful, knowing nod, that I realize now is intended more for the parents than the kids. And thank you for your Crossing Guard Therapy, which delivered this all too often over the top Mama back to my day with wisdom and humor.

Modah Ani Lefanecha, Ruach Chai, Vekayom.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Saying Yes to Saying NO!

Most women have a hard time saying no. At least most of the women I know. I know this because I'm one of them, or am trying not to being one of them. I'm 50 years old and am just beginning to learn how to understand and respect my limits. I'm concerned about my three daughters and how quickly they are learning what they will have to work hard all their life to unlearn. But this week, my beloved mother taught me a great lesson in listening to and saying yes to that voice inside of us that usually is screaming, NO!

This has been a rough year for my mother. Her husband of 55 years, my father, died last October. She thought she had already grieved, but soon realized the grief she experienced before his death wasn't about his death. It was the grieving of who he was - the vibrant, energetic, incredibly capable man. It was the grief of acceptance that her best friend was going away and there wasn't anything she could do about it.

After my dad's death, grief took the form of a compromised immune system that left her ripe for stubborn and recurrent staph infection in her finger. She's withstood three surgical procedures and almost a solid year of heavy duty antiobiotics to knock this infection out of her body. Finally, the infection seems to be gone and she is ready to begin her life again. Her courage in re-imagining her life without my father, without her lover and best friend, is inspiring and keeps me going on those dark days when my dad's absence becomes too much.

Last Sunday, my mom adopted a dog. We grew up with dogs and she's always had a very special bond with them. Dogs love my mother. In a room full of people, most dogs will immediately be drawn to her. When she called and told me about the two-year old black and white poodle mix she had chosen, my brothers and I sighed a sigh of relief. She's back! She's ready to step back into life! A dog would give her someone to care for, someone to look after.

But around Tuesday, I could hear the tension and exhaustion in my mother's voice. Her arthritic knees hurt from the multiple walks this energetic little guy needed. Her scoliosis-ridden hip hurt from walking up and down three flights of stairs. Her wrist hurt from his aggressive barking and pulling toward other dogs.

She also talked about how much she realized my dad had done in taking care of the dogs. He was the one who did the night time walks, the first pee of the day walks. And when both my dad's health and their second dog Zelda's health was waning, it was a comfort to my mom that they could look after each other when she went out.

By Friday, she was in tears. It was like another wave of grief had been unleashed with the presence of this dog, who by this time had chewed up a hearing aid and whose initial stellar housetraining skills were slipping away.

We talked about training and how much improvement dogs can make. She said she'd call the dog trainer and see if they could get started the next week. She told me of outrageous prices (it is LA after all) and of an oddball conversation with a trainer who told her dogs needed to be treated the same as teenagers with a drug addiction. Tough love. Ignore them. Gates and crates and weeks and weeks of training.

You have to understand. This may be self-stereotyping, but Jewish families are not really known for their dog training acumen. Dogs were walked, fed and allowed on the furniture. My father used to remind me to save a portion of my meal for the dog, despite knowing it was not good for their health to have human food. I can't even count the number of times my parents called me by the dog's name before remembering I was the daughter with two, not four legs.

Saturday night, she called me, again in tears, to tell me she just couldn't handle it, that it was too soon and too much. And you know? She was right. And I told her so.

This afternoon she called me and told me she brought the dog back. She wrote a letter to the foster dog center explaining he needed training and that she had underestimated just how much work a dog would be for her. She chuckled as she said the dog was so engaged in barking at the other dogs that he didn't even notice when she left.

And then she said the most wonderful thing to me. "Lisa, I've come to the realization that I have to stop trying to please everyone else. I have to know my limits and this is the time for me to figure out what I want in my life." After raising three children, running an incredibly efficient and clean home, dedicating herself to her marriage and to keeping my dad on this planet for almost 97 years, she's ready to accept the limitation of just being herself. She's ready to accept and embrace that the only being she needs to take care of, look after, is herself. At 78 years old, she has come up against an incredible challenge. After a lifetime of taking care of everyone else, she's facing up to the difficulty of learning what she wants, not what others who love her with all our being and with good intentions, want for her.

The dog will find the perfect family to take on his training and love him. The dog will be fine.

And so will my mom. Here's to reaching our limits and learning from them, whether we're 9, or 50 or 78 years old.

Thanks, Mom, for showing me that the best way to yourself is to walk right into the wall. The next time, and I know there will always be a next time, my nose is about to bonk into that all too familiar wall, I will think of your bravery in saying yes to saying no.