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.

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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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Festival of Friday Night Lights

Just daydreaming a little there with that title. Like how the Taylors move to Forest Hills so Coach can lead the JCC basketball team to victory, with Tami taking the coveted post of principal at a specialized high school and leading the charge against the Common Core.

Poor Julie is caught between the love of a dreadlocked Jewish boy from Bushwick who crafts small batch whisky and a rebellious whipsmart WASP from New England whose family’s politics go against all her moral fibers.

This is because I didn’t really think Julie and Matt had a solid future, but they remained friends, Skype often and hook up between steadies.

Can’t see Tim Riggins stepping foot any place near the East Coast, but we’ll flash back to him because, well, Tim Riggins.

But Landry is open to broadening his horizons, even minoring in theology, and heads to New York as an exchange student at Yeshiva University. He makes the switch from beer to wine.

Anyway, happy fourth night of Chanukah and last day of NaBloPoMo.

Nothing illustrates a miracle like matching vests from my parents.

Nothing illustrates a miracle like matching vests from my parents.

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Digesting

On the radio today, I heard the phrase “Black Friday 3-Day Weekend.”

And though that is an impossibly incorrect mutilation of the English language, I knew exactly what the announcer meant.

Everyone had off today and we had access to a car (we don’t own one). At my age, I prefer not to use the phrase “borrowed the car” but rather “participating in a car share” with my parents.  We hit the Long Island Children’s Museum, Famous Dave’s for lunch and Target, because it was there and Charlotte lost her gloves yesterday. At 2pm, it was clear of the Black Friday shopping zealots and we were in and out pretty quickly.

The kids both fell asleep on the way home but both Scott and I were too tired to take advantage of the time to talk amongst ourselves, about ourselves, without the demands for snacks, requests for songs or protests about how much longer the ride was. We rode in silence in the harsh endgame sunlight that crashed down on the pavement.

It let me down a little, not being able to seize the moment, take advantage of an opportunity. But I got to hear that radio commercial, and that was something.

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What This Working Mom is Thankful For

1. My village. It truly does take a village to raise a child. We are lucky to have a support system comprised of grandparents, babysitters, teachers, and other parents to help with our childcare.

2. Good health. I rarely get sick (knock on wood) and my kids don’t suffer from much more than the occasional cold. As any parent, working out of the home or not, knows – a sick kid or parent upsets the whole ecosystem of the daily routine. So I’m thankful that we don’t have to make those frantic adjustments so frequently.

3. Low expectations. I rarely cook. And almost NEVER on a weekday. Scott is usually the one conjuring up meals, making enough on weekends to have leftovers for the week. Our kids know better than to expect the aroma of simmering goodness to greet them when they walk through the door at 6:30 on a weeknight. We give our microwave a good work-out and mix and match frozen veggies. Because while we keep it simple, fast and non-gourmet, I refuse to serve them crap. Except for the occasional fish sticks. And maybe some other stuff from the freezer. But, they eat their rainbows!

4. Friends. I think I still have some. They have remained there for me though I have pretty much retreated into my own little bubble these last few years. My terms have changed; I rarely go out after dark – both because I choose not to and because exhaustion prevents me from doing so. So they agree to meet me for mid-day coffee or a lunch break manicure and I am so grateful for their time and their company.

5. Co-workers. My team rolls with the fact that sometimes I work from home, sometimes I work from our Brooklyn office and that from 5:30 – 8pm, I am wearing my mom hat, to be contacted for work emergencies only. I am more than willing to find pockets of time to work in the evening, after the kids are in bed, or on the weekends, when my husband takes the kids to the playground for daredevil shenanigans which he knows I can’t stomach. So it evens out. I do believe the best collaborative work is done when everyone is on site, able to discuss face to face and SEE others’ faces, which, for me at least, really improves communication. I understand better when I can read the emotion and body language behind the words. Facetime or Skype is ok, but let’s not discount the informative energy in a room full of people trying to bring a project to life. However, life happens. So I’m grateful for my co-workers who share the belief that work and life are not mutually exclusive.

Turkey art by Campbell. Dreidel brought to you by Chanukah which arrived on Thanksgiving eve.

Turkey art by Campbell. Dreidel brought to you by Chanukah which arrived on Thanksgiving eve.

6. The tradition of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in my pjs while drinking coffee. With two kids, I only get about 3 consecutive minutes of viewing at a time, but watching it makes me feel like me. It’s something I’ve always done. Never wanted to go to the parade, just wanted to watch it on TV. Wondering if it’s just a native New Yorker thing (my husband, who hails from Buffalo, always throws out going to the parade to which I reply: “Sure, have fun.”

7. Love. Ok, that’s an easy one. But let me contextualize this; my children know how much their family loves them. I know they know. And I think that means we’re doing an ok job raising them.

Charlotte: "I'm thankful for my family because they keep me safe."

Charlotte: “I’m thankful for my family because they keep me safe.”

8. The obvious stuff like a roof over our heads, food (frozen or otherwise) on the table and access to good education and clean water. It’s worth pointing those things out, and paying our gratitude forward to those who lack the comforts we are privileged to have. It’s become habit now for my six-year-old to bring me clothes she no longer wants to wear or has outgrown, telling me it’s time to pass them on to people who can use them. And she must have collected eight pounds of coins for her school’s Penny Harvest. My son’s school galvanized a collection of clothes and canned goods for the Philippines Philippines as well as asking for pajama donations for Hour Children. It was important to involve Campbell in that process. I believe if I can afford to do something – either with time or money – I want my kids to know we have an obligation, as members of the human race, to do it. Plus, you never know when you might find yourself needing to be on the receiving end.

9. Netflix. No really, it’s major for us.

10. My readers. I love to know people show up when I post. Thank you all for visiting me here, sharing your thoughts and supporting my efforts as a working mama blogger.

Eat, drink and share the love. Happy Thanksgiving!

How does Thanksgiving put YOUR life in perspective?

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Quick Post

Very quick. Like, this is it folks. My kids are asleep, I’m going to sleep and our 4- day weekend has begun.

Happy Chanukah. Happy Thanksgiving. And now, a picture with me and our office mascot, Hall.

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Unprepared

I am unprepared for Chanukah. No gifts, can’t find the Velcro candles for our cloth menorah and the impulse purchase of chocolate gelt hasn’t manifested yet.

Sorry kids. We will be celebrating in December when your parents have their sh*t together. No matter what the Jewish calendar tells me, I can’t think about Chanukah until after Thanksgiving.

One of the nice things about marrying a Christmas guy is that you always know when that holiday is. No surprises. Stability, consistency, no dictate on number of gifts (yeah, I’m looking at you, you 8 crazy nights).

Chanukah is postponed til further notice. Because I said so.

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Cranky

Was robbed of sleep last night, thanks to Charlotte’s chronic coughing. Scott was a gem and took the day off to be with her because of two important meetings I had. That’s how we roll – pitting the urgency of our work commitments against each other’s. The girl wasn’t sick but she certainly didn’t get a good enough night’s sleep to function well in school and then after-school. Plus, as she put it, her coughing at school would be interrupting everybody.

So I was cranky all day. I worked hard to stuff it back inside and was pretty successful until returning home. Because that’s how it is sometimes – saving the worst for the people you love best.

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