Closing the Loop

Getting this post in just under the wire – an hour and a half before the calendar flips to September. I couldn’t let an entire month go by without a post. That’s not responsible self-promotion.

It’s been a hectic month. One which forced me to adopt a new catchphrase: “Close the loop.”

As a lifelong procrastinator, I am forever reluctant to finish (and start). I am rarely impulsive, which can be a good thing; I don’t make rash decisions, I “sleep on it” whenever I can afford to and I listen more than I talk. Over-analysis has often led to paralysis, though. I am so busy trying to see a thing from all angles that I don’t actually make a move. Perhaps this is why I knew better than to take up chess.

So back to what August was – hectic. Work was kind of all over the place – developing shows, producing an independent film, overseeing post-production on a few commercial projects. All good things, but not if you have shingles.

Wait, what?

Shingles. Like chicken pox for grown-ups, except you want to die because the pain is searing and unrelenting. And the only thing that takes the edge off is some heavy narcotics, and that is not an option for me, as a parent.

So yeah, how does one get shingles? Well, first you have had to have had chicken pox as a kid. Check. Then, you need to have an overwhelming amount of pent up stress and anxiety that can only manifest physically, because you aren’t finding the proper outlets for release. Asking for more help, working out, being more social – all good outlets for release, but for me, the only way to stem the tide of debilitating stress is to close that f*cking loop. Get ‘er done, as Coach Taylor would say.

Make a decision, move on.
Call the person back, immediately.
Don’t spend more than 24 hours re-working a treatment.
Make the follow-up meeting for as soon as possible, as opposed “when everyone’s schedules have eased up.” Girl, you know better to think that will ever happen.

Having shingles woke me the hell up. NOTHING is worth getting so worked up about; not my kids’ constant fighting, or going over-budget on someone else’s passion project or looking at the upcoming school year like a basted together patchwork quilt of after-school childcare, extra-cirricular activities and no fewer than 3 babysitters. It’s all so messy, and it won’t kill me…unless I let it. It’s figured out so far – not for forever, and it won’t kill me. I must move on.

I’ve had so little patience at home the last few months; having shingles forced me to throw down that namaste gauntlet and literally “peace out.” I mean, the itching and pain would actually increase as I felt myself reacting to my son’s ridiculous rebellion or my daughter’s frequent, seemingly unwarranted, mood swings. I remember something a former boss taught his staff: “You can’t control others’ actions, but you can control your reactions.” And I’ve been working damn hard to dial down my reaction, stay in the calm zone, and close the loop. Be done. So much mental energy is spent when you don’t allow yourself to just be done. I can’t afford that; I need that brainspace for the creative work that is my lifeblood. It’s very hard to brainstorm and write when your mind is cycling through steps of all the production-related or home administrative tasks that I fail to delegate (working on it!) and it is so overwhelming that you can’t even start, let alone finish. I’m done subscribing to that practice.

And so we are done with August. Two weeks of horrific shingles pain has passed, though my forehead still bears faint red marks. (Oh yeah, did I mention that the shingles were ON MY FACE??!). The film is in the can. We ended the summer with a week of spectacular weather on vacation in the Poconos. School starts, and some professional adventures, which I hope to share soon, are on deck. I still have a lot of work to do on the whole procrastination issue; it’s hard to break a habit that was cultivated at such a young age. But at least I identified a mantra that puts me in the right head to take it on.

Close the loop.

Sitting still in the fast lane is an accurate description of how I roll these days.

Sitting still in the fast lane is an accurate description of how I roll these days.

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Level 42

Today is my birthday. So, you know, I got to sleep in (albeit in my son’s bed) and I only had to issue two time-outs before sending the kids off to camp. I used the good sh!t in the shower (though someone ought to let Fresh know that their ungrippable bombs of soap are apt to cause more injury than freshness). My daughter packed my lunch – a ceramic robot with an angular heart taped to the coin slot (nothing in, nothing out). I “forgot” it at home and traipsed to the corner deli for flaccid sushi.

Stress over a birthday outfit? Not at this age. Just zip myself into a onesie and go to work!

Stress over a birthday outfit? Not at this age. Just zip myself into a onesie and go to work!

See, I turned 42. So there isn’t really a reason to make this birthday the best thing ever. Social media is giving me lots of warm fuzzies today and my office mate trucked in goodies from Doughnut Plant. The kids are looking forward to handing me gifts my husband bought for me (oh please lord, let it be headphones) and showering me with more art when we all get home. Apparently there is a some kind of technique involving sunscreen where, if you spray it on your marker drawing of a rainbow, it bleeds through magically to the other side. I’m so glad I spent the extra money on the brand containing helioplex.

Hanging over my head this birthday is the stress of throwing my son’s birthday party this coming Sunday. This is the first party we’re having for him. I never bothered with parties for my kids before they turned 4. Did they have friends before then? Or just playmates their mother chose for them based on which other moms she wanted to hang out with who also had kids? I’ve lined up some entertainment and secured our building party room but I have been in denial about the rest of it. Cake, crafts, candles that still have some wicks left…those will all just magically manifest day of, right?

There is just something about me that hates party planning.

So I leave with you some lyrics from LEVEL 42’s “Something About You” because I would like to think they are about me, today, at age 42.

These changing years

They add to your confusion

Oh and you need to hear the time

That told the truth

That there is something about you

Baby so right

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Drop in. Tune out.

I forgot my headphones today and I think I’m going to die.

I’m not exaggerating.

See, I’ve been blocking the world out, very successfully, for the past 31 years, ever since I got my first Walkman at age 10. It was a Christmas present from friends of the family. I strapped on those foam-padded headphones, slapped in those two AAs and tuned the radio (AM only). I was lost to the beat of “The Little Drummer Boy” the rest of the day.

I grew up in New York. In the city that never sleeps, I had no problem doing so, the backdrop of sirens and airplanes and neighbors’ arguments weaving a blanket of white noise to which I regularly nodded off. In summers, when we decamped to the Catskills, I had a miserable time falling asleep. It was too quiet. I couldn’t focus. Native to a densely populated Queens neighborhood, I quickly learned how to navigate the noise. Just home in and tune it out.

This is me pretending not to see you because I can't actually hear you.

This is me pretending not to see you because I can’t actually hear you.

 

It’s not that I like noise, or thrive in chaotic environments. Very much the contrary. I loved when teachers would send me on errands, creeping through the deserted hallways and quiet stairwells to deliver memos. In between classes was panic-inducing, the crush of a 1,000 students all feeling freedom at once. Barely scraping five-foot-one, I was mostly unseen in the crowds, getting jostled and body-slammed regularly on my subway commute to high school.

My Walkman was the answer. It was on. All. The. Time. Walk to the train station? Not without my music. Running around the corner for gum? $1 and my headphones. All over campus, between swim meet heats, to and from my babysitting gigs – my Walkman went everywhere with me. The one time I was robbed, on the Q34, the kid snatched my Walkman and as he fled through the backdoor, headphones trailing after him, my only thought was: “Was he going to be as into the ‘Hair’ soundtrack as much as I am? No. What a waste of a Memorex High Bias II tape!”

I was so loyal to the classic cassette/radio design that I skipped the whole MP3 player phase and was still lugging around a mini boombox well into the aughts until the thing chewed a precious mixed tape from my fiance and I had to make the leap to an iProduct. But those earbuds aren’t designed to block out enough of my world. So I continue to sport the ear goggles, like I did in 1983.

Because NYC is a big space. And while I am used to having so much around me, tuning out, to music or a podcast, tucks me into a safe little bubble. There is nothing to react to, other than what I choose to listen to. I don’t hear the subway musicians, or the loud teenagers or sometimes my own co-workers. For the last 8 years, my job settings have been open floorplans. The only “privacy” anyone gets is by slipping on their headphones. It’s this century’s closed door in a time when office space is a premium.

Tuning out, specifically with headphones, is how I protect myself. So I’m not so vulnerable to everyone in my path who needs something at that very second. I covet my my time and space, which is incongruous to being a New Yorker.

So why don’t I just move? Get out of all all this crackling energy that overloads my senses and makes me want to hide? Because I like to know it’s there. That things are happening. That I am surrounded by life and progress and ambition and that even though it mostly overwhelms me, I could be a part of it if I wanted. It’s like watching a horror movie with your hands over your eyes – controlling how much of it you’ll let in.

Today, I must let all of it in. With no headphones, I am not just watching a movie with a soundtrack of my choice. I am actually a player in the scene. It’s loud. It’s distracting. I can’t gather my thoughts well. I don’t get that little moment of zen on my commute back home before I am greeted with two small children who will forget their inside voices as they talk over one another to get my attention.

It’s all a bit much. But I may be the only person on the planet who understands the reasoning behind Apple’s $3 billion Beats acquisition. They’re buying a lot of zen.

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Turn This Mothers’ Day Out!

While I very much appreciate how my family shows their appreciation on Mothers’ Day, I want to send a shout-out to the teachers. They are the ones coming up with the tearjerker projects my kids are so proud to present to me on “my” day. Along with their dad, my kids’ classroom and after-school instructors are cultivating a culture of recognition – so that our kids stop, if only for a second, and recognize that maybe their parents are making an OK life for them.

My daughter adopts a French talk show persona after she bathes.

My daughter adopts a French talk show persona after she bathes.

So I’m trying not to yell so much. It might confuse the issue.

Obviously I’m giving a shout-out to my mom, who I never properly appreciated until I became one myself. How did she do it all without curb cuts?

Mom and me and our penchant for overalls.

Mom and me and our penchant for overalls.

Mad props to my social media community. I don’t go out much anymore (mostly my choice) but I love to know everyone is still around, and checking in, and showing some love in the form of a like.

And a final salute, this one to my mother-in-law who is no longer with us. She raised a really nice boy who knows how to make this mom very happy. He gave me the afternoon and evening off before Mothers’ Day and he didn’t pass judgment that I used that time to d*ck around on my phone and purge the “checked homework” folder.

My better half, shouldering quite a burden.

My better half, shouldering quite a burden.

Happy Mothers’ Day to all you muthas!

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600 Seconds All to Myself

If I only have 10 minutes, I’m going to make every second count.

You probably don’t have time to read this blog post. But let’s pretend you’re multi-tasking, reading this while you wait in line at Starbucks or are on the can (hopefully not at Starbucks), and you’re not feeling like you had to find the time to scroll through. Because it’s only when we are already doing something not so enjoyable, that we feel justified to tack on another activity that does cause some pleasure. This is evidenced by the number of Candy Crush games I see being played among the sardine masses smushed together on my train.

I know I don’t have time for anything. I don’t. Don’t even ask me. You know I don’t, because I’m just like you. Here’s what we are all busy with:

  • comparing prices on vacations we’ll never take
  • texting grocery lists to loved ones
  • food shopping
  • food prep
  • cleaning up after meals
  • bathing small humans
  • checking homework
  • paying bills
  • clearing clutter (at least enough to form a path from the front door to the bedroom)
  • commuting
  • digging through our pockets for a Metrocard with enough money
  • chewing off hangnails (our own or those of the small humans who live with us)
  • walking pets
  • buying birthday cards
  • sharing our Buzzfeed test results
  • scheduling doctor appointments
  • enrolling a small human in UPK
  • packing lunches
  • unpacking uneaten lunches
  • maintaining chore/reward charts
  • trying to find that thing we can’t find
  • sewing/ironing/taping on Girl Scout patches
  • shuttling small humans to soccer, dance, art, piano, Thai school, Greek school, Hebrew school
  • doing, folding and putting away laundry
  • updating our Google calendars
  • weeding through and discarding dried up lipsticks, markers, glue and Play-Doh
  • looking at craft projects we won’t do
  • searching for recipes we won’t make
  • cursing tiny Legos
  • Back-pedaling after cursing
  • reading bedtime stories
  • work: researching, writing, calling, proposing, budgeting, meeting, revising, re-scheduling
  • sleeping
  • reminding our partners about that thing we need to remind them about
  • convincing our partners that we’re not nagging
  • scrolling through the Netflix queue
  • Chucking expired milk, coupons and gym memberships

And a lot of other stuff I haven’t listed.

How could I resist these little time suckers?

How could I resist these little time suckers?

So where, in the 24 hours that constitute one day, would we find the time to work out?

This is where 10 minutes come in.

Last week I decided that I needed to re-commit to health. Not weightloss, not being cut. Just, general health. Being more active, having more energy and staying hydrated.

There are some things I can’t control. An editor having an off day, the weather, my daughter’s tendency to dress like a 1920s vaudeville act. But I needed to be more in control of how I was feeling. And I always felt better when I was able to exercise.

So I’m finding 10 minutes wherever I can. I throw on whatever I need to. Sometimes I don’t bother with socks. I don’t “fix” my hair. I just say: “10 minutes now.” And nothing else happens in those 10 minutes other than me pushing for maximum intensity, because if you only have 10 minutes, you have GOT to go hard. I’m finding awesome FREE interval training videos on the Lionsgate BeFIT channel on Youtube.

It’s only been about 6 days, but it’s paying off. I feel more energized. I’m less sore today than I was Monday. And I’m finding that I could squeeze in a couple of 10-minute sessions in a day. Even if one of them is at 10 o’clock at night.

Read a decent amount of fitness articles, especially in women’s magazines, and you’ll find you can be painted into a corner trying to work out the perfect way. Most people will tell you you shouldn’t exercise at night. But I believe exercising at night is better than not exercising at all. Working out certain muscle groups on the same day is not recommended. But I can’t think about it, or take the time to note it in some exercise journal. If I stop and think, I lose momentum.

I just have to do it. 10 minutes at a time. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What can YOU do in 10 minutes that will make you feel better?

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Don’t Let Me Get Me

The title of this post is from a P!nk song and, though I don’t consider myself a fan of her music, I kind of like imagining that she’d be an alter-ego of mine. She knows how to have fun, especially when it appears the planet has you pegged for a freak. I think I can relate.

I have lived 4 decades in what many would call the hardest First World city in which to “make it.” I have pushed forward, or at least sideways, in my career and if I don’t retire til I’m 80, my 401K savings should buy me a couple of years of modestly comfortable living before I’m dead. I am raising fourth generation New Yorkers. They’re little toughies with hearts of gold. Because they take after me.

So why does the world suddenly think I’m a hazard to myself?

As evidenced in this incident:

1. Found myself with 2 hours to myself after a canceled meeting left me in midtown on a slushy Wednesday. I had been putting off replenishing my bra supply since 2008. Being pregnant, breast-feeding for 4 and a half years straight and then being a full-time working parent, I was making due with a collection of stretched-out-too-tight-threadbare-pinned-together underthings more suitable for Frankenstein’s lady monster than for a career gal with ambition and a 401K. So off to Macy’s I went. I guess I looked like I needed the help because the saleswomen waived the 6-garment limit for the dressing room, and I spent the next 90 minutes wriggling in and out of 50 bras. Hated every second of it, but I was on a mission. Found 4 that fit and weren’t too utilitarian looking (I forget that matters, but it does…to me, anyway), plus a few bonus slips because I’m 41 and a half and something tells me I need those now. Nothing was on sale, and I hesitated for maybe a second. Do I comb the racks for another hour, trying to find marked-down bargains that still lifted and separated me in all the right places? I had, in my hot little hands, all I needed for the next 2-3 years (probably more), barring any dramatic changes to my torso.  It wasn’t cheap. But it was finally done. To the cashier!

I wasn’t even out of the store yet when my bank called me. They noticed “suspicious” activity on my credit card. Apparently buying myself underwear is cause for alarm. That I should use my Mastercard for something other than pull-ups or pre-school or Girl Scout dues or pediatrician co-pays makes banks uncomfortable. Guess what, HSBC? Mama’s got a brand new bag of underwires, and they’re legit!

And now, we file this one under: “Zen and the Art of Winter Coat Maintenance.”

2. The zipper on my GOOD winter coat has been sticking, ever since the snow started this winter. I brought it in to the tailor, who was able to zip it, no problem. I try it, no problem. But the problem is there, I swear! When my coat is on, I can’t get the teeth to align and I notice that the bottom is beginning to fray. “No,” the tailor tells me. “You just need to calm down when you zipper.” Sure, I saved at least $20 by the refusal to repair my perfectly good outerwear. I am unable to zip up my coat because I am hysterical.

So there it is. I can’t be trusted to purchase lingerie or zip up my coat. Guess it’s ace bandages and Snuggies for me.

P!nk, I’m with you.

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A New Mantra for a New Year

I remember when the days between Christmas and New Year’s were focused on one thing: New Year’s Eve. Parties mostly. The occasional off the beaten path dive or Irish bar (or Irish dive bar). Then came kids. And with them the end of end of the year celebrations.

2013-12-25 06.51.08

That’s it? It’s over?

My kids don’t get the notion of one year ending and another beginning. They get it in terms of a calendar but not in terms of looking ahead to 12 months of uncharted territory and unkept resolutions. With New Year’s Eve on a Tuesday this year, it is just really sneaking in there, uneventful as ever. Except I’ll let them blow noisemakers for a few minutes before bed.

Part of me doesn’t care to make anything out of the end of 2013. I’m tired. But I shouldn’t miss the opportunity to set up the starting blocks to 2014 so I can come out of the gate with, at the very least, the best intentions.

This past year, my mantra was “everything is an opportunity.” It worked well; at times when things didn’t go as I had imagined, I justified that it brought me SOMETHING in exchange. Not the desired result, but some useful knowledge, insight, or maybe just a really inspiring conversation with a new friend. I may have missed the intention but I gained something in return.

I needed that mantra. One of the reasons I left my job almost a year ago was that I feared getting too comfortable. I was worried that complacency and stagnancy would set in. In this year since I’ve embarked on a new work adventure, I continue to have no regrets but I’ve had plenty of self-doubt. I think I’ve done a lot of things wrong and I know I didn’t do some things I probably should have. Fear of failure – you know the drill. If I were to keep score, I’d say I probably fell short more than hit any goals. It’s a complicated algorithm to track, but if I look back at the last year, I found myself saying: “That didn’t work” more than a recovering Type A like myself would like to. It was enough to make me sum up the year as a whole as “a mistake.” Having my mantra helped. But as the year closes, I realize I need another tool for propulsion.

Then it dawned on me. I was folding a blanket, the way I always fold a blanket because I like the bed made. I can make it look neat. The bed can declare I’ve got things under control. I like feeling that way. And I haven’t really been feeling that way all year, since I changed the path of my career. I knew it was going to be an uncomfortable change. The challenge of this past year was the unknown. What I hadn’t realized was that I was the unknown. I was the one who had to be figured out. And it was only through embracing this challenge – for growth, creative satisfaction, material for the blog – that I realized I first had to reckon with me. I was getting in my own way so easily. I was still letting big ideas float in the distance instead of finding the small steps that brought me closer to them. It was a pretty big a-ha moment.

So I need a mantra to go with it.

A little help here...

A little help here…

A simple phrase: something I can play on an endless loop in my mind that empowers me. Bonus points if it can be set to a Yaz track. (“Don’t go” and “Move out” are catchy, but don’t really speak to what I need out of a mantra.)

It has to be always relevant, in good times and bad. It has to be constant, against which I can measure any experience. It can’t leave things to chance (“everything is an opportunity” is a definitive statement while “Ya never know what’s gonna happen” is completely relinquishing your destiny to others’ will). It can’t be defeatist (“What can possibly go wrong?” and “Things are never as bad as they seem” are couched in the negative so let’s not go there). And I have to f*ckin’ believe it to be true. (“Find the joy in the every day” just ain’t gonna happen.)

I would love your suggestions. Or just to hear what works for you. Please add your mantras in the comments and have a terrific transition to the new year!

We're ready for you, 2014.

We’re ready for you, 2014.

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…But You Can’t Take the Girl Out of Queens

Growing up in Queens, my brother and I worked hard to neutralize any New York accent that was fighting hard to filter in from our dad’s side (Brooklyn) and my mom’s (The Bronx). Thank goodness for Sesame Street and The Brady Bunch, where we learned not to drop our “r”s or lean too hard on our short consonants.

But here I am, still in Queens, raising fourth generation New Yorkers. So while I’m here, I’m happy to be writing for Queens Mamas, a site which showcases the best of the borough for families looking for things to do, people to meet and great stuff to eat.

Recently I posted a quasi-crafty article on there listing ways to wrap without using wrapping paper. Not exactly borough-centric. For the holidays, I wrote a piece about where Queens families can volunteer and donate locally, and involve kids at any age. And for those staying in the city over the school’s holiday break, I put together a round-up of the 12 Days of Christmas Break Activities.

Thanks for reading friends!

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Mama Jabber Takes on the Holidays

Just a quick post to share some holiday-themed pieces I wrote for Families Go and Queens Mamas.

Staying with family over the holidays? You can make it. But read this first.

Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses is my fave holiday song. Gift wrapping is my least fave holiday activity, mostly because it seems like such a waste. Here are 10 ways to wrap without the gift wrap.

Been light on posting here this month because of these other outlets for which I’m writing. I’m thankful for the opportunities to share my words with new readers, and I appreciate your eyeballs, as always.

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Calling Bull

Since 9/11, NYC’s MTA has been running a safety campaign featuring an unattended bag under a subway seat, under the call to action: “If You See Something, Say Something.” There’s been speculation on the efficacy of the signage, but that’s not where I’m going here.

“Ferdinand the Bull” has been a staple in our kids’ library for their entire lives. I remember it as a kid, along with the Disney animated short of the same story. The other night, Charlotte chose it as part of her nightly reading (at least 15 minutes, as part of her first grade nightly homework). She got through the text fine, almost cheerfully as she was proud that she barely stumbled over any words.

When we were done, she broke down in tears.

She became very upset about the treatment of the bulls in the ring. And even though Ferdinand didn’t get hurt, since he just sat down and smelled (I still think that phrase could have been rewritten to not so sound awkward), she was horrified that the notion of sticking things in a bull even existed. It didn’t matter that it was a made-up story. It didn’t matter that nobody experienced pain in the book. She was distraught.

I told her the best thing we could do is to let people know how much this upset her. If people didn’t know, they couldn’t possibly decide to change their actions.

So she wrote a letter.

"Dear bullfighters, Can you stop trying to stick sharp needles in the bulls? It makes me sad and I don;t want animals to get hurt. Love, Charlotte. And I'm six years old."

“Dear bullfighters, Can you stop trying to stick sharp needles in the bulls? It makes me sad and I don;t want animals to get hurt. Love, Charlotte. And I’m six years old.”

And I researched where to send it.

Ministry of Interior
Amador de los Rios,
Madrid, Spain

The Spanish National Tourist Office
57 St. James Street, London SW1

The Spanish Ambassador
The Spanish Embassy,
24 Belgrave Square, London SW1

I don’t really see this so much as animal activism, but making yourself heard. I let my daughter know she had a voice, and that she could use it to do some good. I was a quiet girl growing up. I didn’t choose to be heard, whether it was to voice an opinion, share an idea or offer praise. And I think it played into my lack of self-confidence into my adulthood. It hurts to not feel sure of yourself. I don’t want my kids to get cocky, but they should trust their opinions are valued. They should not bottle their esteem in the back of their throats.

Here’s to the good that comes from kids being seen AND heard.

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