Monthly Archives: December 2012

The important “things” in life (this is not your average “list”…).

This is my last post for 2012.  What are those “things” that are important in life?  I read an article some time ago, which helped me formulate this “list.”  These are not “things” but rather ideas or maybe beliefs that are important in my life.  I was thinking recently that although I can write about all these ideas, I must be sure I am trying to follow them as well – and to show my kids how to do the same. Implementation is the harder work.   In one area of my life, I have done a poor job of implementing these tenets.  That area will have my renewed focus.  Life is a beautiful and difficult challenge!

Thoughts.  We are what we think.  We spend our lives in two forms of thought: fear and worry.  These are life traps. Some thought is our ego.  It is important to distinguish between a strong ego and a big ego.  We must learn to be happy with who we are, not how big we are.  Our journey in life must include a constant effort to pull away from fear and worry.

Interpretations.  The things that happen to us in life only have the meaning we ascribe to them.  It really doesn’t matter what it is, it is how we interpret it.  We use memory to put the experience in a category … whether positive or negative, happy or sad.  Our interpretations of the event has an enormous effect on the quality of our life.

Words and Actions. How we express ourselves is our statement in life.  It’s how we are judged in the world.  However, it’s not what people think about us, it’s what we think they think about us. Making mistakes is part of success in any area of life and there is no substitute for experience and experience comes from failure.  This is powerfully important and includes relationships.

Feelings. Feelings are based on our interpretations. When we have a healthy view on life and ourselves, we are able to freely experience life and others.

Emotions. When we feel emotions, that is when we are truly alive — even when the emotions are negative.  Mastering our emotions is one of the most important lessons in life.

People and Love.  The people we hold near and dear to our heart, whether family or friends, we must work to keep them there.  The loves of our life are the basis of our existence.

Vision. We have the power to create a vision for a future.  Take advantage of that power.

I know this is long but please allow me to share a story I once heard – maybe you’ve heard it too … bears repeating today:

A philosophy professor stood before his class with some items on the table in front of him. When the class began, he picked up a very large and empty jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

He then asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “Yes.”

“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, your house, your car.

The sand is everything else. The small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued “there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal.

Take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

My love to each and every one of you for the new year.  May you all experience growth and happiness.

I am an embarrassment to my kids!

My kids would argue that I was put on this earth to embarrass them.  I do consider that part of my job description.  I read once that if you “mortify your kids enough, and you’ll help fuel them to do what they were put here for — to make their way in the world without us.”  I’m not sure that I am totally with that one but it was from the NY Times!

I embarrass my kids when I sing or dance in public. I’m not even allowed to hum.  I embarrass them when I talk with people in the grocery store line.  I embarrass them when I talk to their friends, look at their friends, I’m sure even mention their friends.  Actually, I embarrass them just by existing.  I try to tell them that I really am working as hard as I can NOT to embarrass them.  Yet, my every breath does.  Maybe they will get it when they are parents.

I don’t allow peer pressure to bother me and that bothers my kids as well.  “All the other parents do …”  “Why do you have to be the only one who does …”  I say because I am an individual and I have to go on my own ideals (note the eye-rolling).

My mom was the “cool” mom – although embarrassing to me.  What did she do to be cool?  She treated my friends like adults (but not me). She listened to them (but not me).   She wore cool clothes (but didn’t buy me any)… get the picture?!  Our impressions as kids will always be different from how other people view our parents.  Looking back, she was cool — I just missed it because I was a teenager (an affliction in and of itself).

So today, I am likely to embarrass my kids when we go skiing.  I am slower than them.  I like to know where I am going ahead of time.  I wear warm but “awkward” clothes.  And, I need bathroom breaks (I did give birth to twins you know!).  I’ll make an effort to keep the embarrassment it to a minimum – but I make no promises!

Try not to dance in the grocery store aisles today in front of your kids and I’ll do the same!  Enjoy!

Built brick by brick by brick …

I had a great conversation last night about relationships where we agreed that you don’t just get lucky and have a great relationship.  You build it brick by brick. Of course, we all know this to be true but what we often forget is that even when we are arguing or disagreeing, we are building   –  and from that disagreement we often come back stronger, with a few more bricks in the joint wall. Fantastic idea!

As we spoke (sometimes him talking and sometimes me talking – sometimes heated and sometimes not!) I began to write down notes about our thoughts:

To have a great relationship, start with yourself.  It is never too late for improvement of ourselves.   We are never the perfect partner – we must focus on looking internally – to better ourselves first. We should also be saying “what can I do to make him feel better.”  Not, “what can he do to make me feel better.”   Of course, the reverse must be happening!

Say thanks.  If you both show your appreciation and gratitude for the small acts of kindness, you will find yourselves falling in love over and over again. I read once that happy couples say it is important not only to show kindness to the world, but also to each other. Cool!

Be faithful. The same article noted that happy couples say they never want to make their partner feel insecure about their love or doubt their loyalty. It is not enough to be faithful. You have to make sure not to give the appearance that you are anything but faithful.  That means you don’t do or say anything in public or private that you wouldn’t want your partner to see or know about.

Do things together and have some fun. Shared activities connect you and bring you closer.  Having fun solidifies the good feelings and gets you though the tough times. Think of it as an insurance policy.  Focus on what you admire about each other and say it out loud!!

Attitude, Attitude, Attitude. Look at differences between you as a way to learn more about your partner … not shut them out. Many problems are solved with the right attitude about these differences.

Don’t make winning the priority. When disagreeing, don’t make winning the goal.  Have the attitude or goal of wanting to listen with an open mind. Listen to the feelings not the words.  Critically important —  don’t put the other person down when you are angry.

Resolve issues quickly. There will be disagreements. Don’t avoid conflict.  Think of anger as a sign that something needs attention, not that there is a fatal flaw.  It means that someone’s needs are not being met.  A great relationship must be safe for both partners to express and resolve anger and differences without fear that the other person will walk.

Relationships are built and last on top of thousands of bricks, put in place in the good times and the not-so-good times. It is a fantastic process!

Have a wonderful day.

Who is in your “family?”

Last night I had dinner with my father, my sister, her husband, my brother and his girlfriend.  I don’t see my brother as often as I like and he has the most delightful significant other.  She is from Thailand and has a wonderful way of being herself.  As I sat at dinner and looked around the table, I began to think about my “family.”  Who is in my family and how do I define it?

My definition of family is something like, “people with whom I have bonds of love and commitment.”  So, in other words, for me, family is not just about the actual structure but also about the quality of the relationships.  It’s really about shared values, beliefs, and traditions; common experiences and activities; and unconditional, non-judgmental love and support.  Clearly not just blood, in my book.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think you can compare your parents, lets say, with a close friend.  Our parents are those people who teach us to discriminate between right and wrong and how to love and live in the world, among and other things. They help build our foundation which helps us move forward in healthy ways.  With friends, if you lose a friend, chances are you will meet a new one.  If you lose a parent, you can’t just get a new one.  There is something different about the bond with our parents.  And our children?  Well, that’s a whole different ball game all together, isn’t it?

I guess I’m speaking in the broader sense.  For example, I’ve experienced many different kinds of families – like “religious “families” that have spiritual connections and shared values, even though we were not formally related.  Or, work families, where we had common experiences and share activities without blood relations.  There are social networking/technology “families” where people create online or virtual families of individuals who share their beliefs, hobbies and values even if they have never met in person. We even marry into families and then they become our family!  I’m looking forward to that some day!

So, as I thought about it last night at dinner I realized that it really doesn’t matter how I define family.  What matters is that I let those people know that the bonds of love and affection are so strong that they fit within my definition of family.  I don’t have to rate them or decide which one is stronger.  All I need to do is tell them I feel that way.  Nothing feels better than hearing that someone feels so strongly about you that they consider you “family.”

Have a wonderful start to your weekend!

Emotional defensiveness – the secret relational issue.

Scenario: Your partner/friend/child says something that hurts your feelings.  You retaliate with an angry or defensive and cutting remark.  Then, you come up with a justification for your response … one of those tapes that say: “She’s so insensitive to all my feelings.” or “No matter what I do, it is never enough.”   These thoughts are your “answer” to justify your anger or retaliatory comment.  However, these thoughts will actually cause you to distance yourself even farther from the love you feel for that person.  Yesterday, I had a series of communications with a friend and I know some of them were based on those same tapes.  It really made me think about how this process “works” (or, really doesn’t work!)

Emotional defensiveness or impulse control is, I think, an important secret for success in life and in relationships.  While I am no expert (as we all know!) it’s not difficult to understand that we live in a culture that is very “me” based. We want it all and we want it now. Why put off for later what you can have now? If it feels good then do it. Look at Tiger Wood, Ben Roethlisberger, Jonathan Edwards, Elliott Spitzer, Lindsay Lohan — all related to impulse control management.  This is what our kids are watching. But this way of being, not controlling our impulses and justifying our actions is not a good way to be in the world or in our relationships.

I’m sure you heard of that famous research study from many years ago, out of Stanford, where children were given a choice between having one marshmallow now or two later. Those who were able to delay gratification by selecting the two later option were more likely to complete their education, have better jobs, stay married, and live healthier lives, many years after the study, than those who went for the one marshmallow option. Amazing!

So, instead of your immediate impulse response to your partner/friend/child, think, “What’s inside me that’s making me angry right now?” or “What’s going on that’s making me hurt right now?”  You really can substitute any other emotion in this question and arrive at the answer about what your emotional self is trying to tell you. Usually, the reaction, whatever it is, is based on something greater than the current issue – it’s often based instead on something from your past that you relate to the current situation.

So, you have two choices:  You can choose to share what you are really feeling with your partner/friend/child – and drop the defensiveness part (this emotional honesty will likely bring you closer) with, hopefully, the other person saying, “I can understand how you might see it that way.”  Or, you can send the quick email or make the off-hand remark and allow the situation to spiral downward.

Non-defensive, empathetic listening and transparent sharing, when you defer your own needs for a while to concentrate your attention on your partner/friend/child while s/he is speaking is really the only way to go.  Maybe its better to look at it this way:  two marshmallows are always better than one because then you can share them.

Have a fantastic day!

Christmas is not just for Jews anymore.

It used to be that only the Jews went out on Christmas.  It was usually Chinese food, bowling and a movie.  I recall many years where only 1/2 the movie theatre was filled on Christmas and you could easily get a table at a Chinese place.   No so any more.

My father and I thought we had it all planned out.  I would hang with my kids in the morning, get in a quick run and then we would meet for lunch and a movie.  Plans changed slightly, as they do when you have an ex, and it became a movie and dinner.  I didn’t think it mattered.  We were likely to have the movie theatre to ourselves anyway.

We arrive at the theatre five minutes before the show started and were shocked.  The parking lot (which is large) was completely filled and there were lines outside the theatre.  I suggested to my dad (once we found a spot at the opposite end of the lot) that these people could not be in line waiting to see “our”move.  We were seeing one that had been out for weeks!  Once we navigated our walk on the icy parking lot, and stood in line for a few minutes, we were told, “It’s sold out.”  What?  Sold out?  Are you kidding?  Who are all these people?  Most of whom didn’t look Jewish to me.  What were non-Jews doing out? What happened to Christmas for the Jews?

We regroup and find another theatre (in a non-jewish area of town), buy the tickets off my phone and head that direction.  Dinner, we muse, will be much easier.

After a great film, we head for dinner.  We figure that all the people celebrating Christmas will be too full for food so it should be no problem finding a place with a table.  Eventually we found a place (it was packed) and yes we got a table (the last table and as close to the door as any table they had!), but we enjoyed our “Christmas” together anyway.

I’m not sure what’s happening.  Maybe the notion of Christmas is changing.  When we celebrated Christmas with my Mom we stayed home all day, playing cards, skiing, going for walks.  A movie or dinner out never entered our minds!  What ever the reason, my Dad and I have decided that a little more forethought is going to be required in future years.  I would invite you to join us but you must have been out anyway!

Have a great day!

Letters to my children – given to them today.

No more letters from Santa. They just get letters from me. Here are this year’s letters.

To my daughter: I want you to know that I am incredibly proud of who you are as a person. I feel lucky (I mean really lucky) to have such a caring and present daughter. What I mean by that is that you never look too far ahead or too far behind. You enjoy the present and help us all do the same. You have the most incredible heart, for those in your life and those who are not. That is a gift – a real gift – that I hope you cherish — I do. I love you. Mom

To my son: I know you have some tapes going in your mind right now but I also know that you are fully aware of how much I love you. You are much like me with the spirit of life and the interest in the world around you. But you have more. You have the ability to think deep (well past what I could do at your age) and see yourself as part of the greater world/universe. Plus, you have the ability to feel just as deeply as you think. You try to hide it but I know it is there and love that about you. I wear your ring every day. That should say something to you. I love you. Mom

To my son: You are so willing to help your cousins, your family and even those you don’t know. Helping people and the interest in doing so will serve you well someday. Plus, you have a knack for being intellectually honest. What I mean by that is you are willing to come back (maybe not right way – but I always know you will) and apologize for something. That is a trait that not many people have but will be incredibly valuable in life. You have taught me to do the same – thank you for that. I love you. Mom

To everyone else – regardless of your religious preference, I am thankful for all of you who are in my life. I would not be here, in this exact spot, without each and every one of you. Somehow, each of you has affected my life and for that I want to say thanks!

Some gift giving with the kids and then a movie and chinese food with my father will finish off my day! Enjoy your day and stay warm!