Monday, July 27, 2015

10 Tips for a Mom Traveling Solo

I'm fresh off a highly-coveted girls' weekend in Los Angeles, and I have some tips to help you tackle the rarity of traveling alone, should the stars align and you find yourself in this situation.

As moms, we are generally last on the priority list when packing for travel with our families. We spend days planning and making lists to ensure our kids have everything they'll need to be entertained and happy while away from home.

To that end, you'd think it would be a breeze packing for a solo trip, right? No coloring books, stickers, wipes, or snacks! Freedom!

But all of a sudden, with the focus solely on myself, I realized I had forgotten what I needed, because I was so accustomed to not giving it much thought.

So, here are my tips for solo trip success:

This could be you!
DO wear comfortable, yet cute, shoes for traipsing miles through the airport, as well as sightseeing expeditions once you're where you're going. My favorites are Birkenstocks (I know, I know). But they have really cute ones now, like these and these. Hey, Heidi Klum and Jennifer Garner wear them!

DO pack ear buds in your purse so you can use your phone to listen to music on the plane. Break them out at the first sign of any unpleasant noise, such as other people's crying children, a lady with a hyena laugh, a man with a hacking cough, or a seatmate who appears potentially chatty.

DO NOT forget to bring dollar bills for tipping. I am used to my husband handling this, but I fortunately had a few singles to tide me over until I could get more.

DO treat yourself to your favorite grown-up magazine and beverage of choice. Go ahead and reach for that trashy gossip rag, if that's what floats your boat. I won't tell anyone.

DO NOT forget to put the liquids you usually carry in your purse, like hand sanitizer and lip gloss, in a quart sized baggie to go through security. Since I rarely fly, I totally forgot to do this before leaving home. Luckily, I happened to have a baggie in my purse with a half-eaten kid's snack, so I was able to empty it and use it for my liquids. We moms are nothing if not prepared for anything!

DO bring a sweater, jacket, or blanket because I swear the temp on the airplane once we were in the air was about 55 degrees. You might even consider throwing a pair of socks in your purse if you're wearing sandals because you might notice icicles on your toes.

DO learn how to use Uber, if it's available in the city that you're visiting. Much nicer, and often cheaper, than cabs. Spring for the Black Car service for a night out in style. Your driver might even surprise you with bottled water and mints.

DO all the things you'd never do with kids. Like sleep late, lie by the pool and read a book, see the sights in a leisurely way that would incite whining in kids, and eat at restaurants with non-kid-friendly food, like sushi. Remember, this trip is all about you!

DO carve out a little time before you leave on your trip (impossible, I know!) to research your destination and get a rough idea of what you and your friends would like to do/see while you're there. Much easier to go in with a plan and not have to waste precious vacation time trying to figure out logistics.

DO NOT feel guilty that you have left your family behind for some "me time." You are there for them every day, 24/7, and you deserve a break. I promise that your husband does not feel an ounce of shame when he heads out the door for that concert with friends or a guys' fishing trip.

I hope these tips help you the next time you decide to fly the friendly skies for a fun getaway. We are no good to our families if we don't take the time to recharge our own batteries, and sometimes the only way to do that is to get away from it all.

You officially have my permission to start planning that next girl's trip, so get cracking! And if you have any travel tips to add, I'd love to hear them.

Belly laughs with old friends = batteries recharged

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Learning to Leave

It’s the end of May, and we’re entering into those last few crazy days of end-of-year this and that.  Most of us feel like we’re screeching towards the finish line, with only three wheels left on the car.

Normally, the end of the school year is a time of reflection for kids, when they say goodbye to this year’s class and start thinking about the next year with new teachers and classmates.

Both my kids will be starting new schools next year, so this end-of-year is particularly significant for us.

My ten-year old said to me, “Mom? I think the last day of school is going to be really hard for me.”

Instinctively, I began to feel all jumpy and started to respond with, “It’ll be OK, honey! Everything will be fine. Try not to think about it!”

I am really not good with goodbyes, and looking back over my own life, I regret the way I handled many a “leaving” situation.

I even began to fantasize about skipping the last day of school altogether, to avoid dealing with all these feelings that she and I will both face.  She’s been at this school for seven years.  This isn’t going to be easy.

And then it dawned on me.

This is a very important teaching opportunity right under my nose.

It is my job, as her parent, to teach her how to leave.



*****

Most human beings I know do not relish change.  We like being happy (or happy enough) in our comfort zones, and taking a risk on something unknown is sometimes too scary to imagine.

But we all do eventually find ourselves in transition mode, whether we want to or not. And even when we are the ones making the choice to leave our current path, it can still be very difficult closing that chapter.

Whether it’s a job, a relationship, or a place, leaving conjures up a bag of mixed emotions that are not always easy to navigate.

Personally, this is one of the things I’ve gotten pretty wrong over the years.

There are boyfriends, roommates, and jobs that I left without even looking in the rear view mirror.

And now that my age has brought some wisdom, I see that I did not handle these situations with grace.

I literally did not know the right way to leave.

So I took the coward’s way out, and stole off in the middle of the night.

But this is my chance to teach my children how it’s done.  Most of the process will be lost on the four-year old, but this is fertile teaching ground for my ten-year old girl.

The plan of attack for Learning to Leave:

Feel the Feelings

You are happy and excited about your new adventure.  You will also feel sad that you are leaving people you care about.  You may even feel regretful and anxious about having to say goodbye.

It is so very important that you allow yourself to fully experience these emotions. Do not try and stuff them down deep inside you to minimize their effect.  Even if your eyes begin to fill with tears, and the back of your throat begins to tickle, don’t fight it.  Let the feelings wash over you.  They won’t kill you.

Express the Feelings

Tell your friends and teachers that you’ll miss them.  Cry and hug them.  Do not be afraid of how you appear to onlookers.  Do not be afraid to “make a scene” or be labeled “emotional.”  You have a right to your feelings and to this experience.

Take a Deep Breath 

This is one of those defining moments that you will probably always remember. Take a mental snapshot.  Muster up every last bit of courage and strength inside of you, because it’s time to close this door.

Treat everyone you encounter today with kindness, regardless of how he or she has treated you, because you never know when you might cross paths with him or her again.

Leave on the highest note possible.

Focus on the Positives

God has put you on a new path that is going to be filled with new and wonderful things. You are doing a hard thing, and you will be rewarded. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Your true friends will always be your friends, and you will keep in touch with them.

Don’t get swept out so far into the sea of emotions that you can’t see the shore.  You are going to get through this and move on to something better for you.

Go Forward

Dry your eyes and say your goodbyes. Appreciate the experiences and lessons learned here. Hold your head high, chin up, and shoulders back. Walk out with grace and dignity knowing you gave it your best.

Praise God for your blessings.

Most importantly, don’t forget who you are and where you are going.

And as hard as it is, don’t look back.




Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Squeeze the Moment

April 2013 - 2 1/2 years old

Your cheeks will never again be this round

Your lips never this plump and pink

Your skin as soft and smooth as silk when I hug you cheek-to-cheek

Your lashes as lavish as peacock feathers

Your chin so dimpled and sweet

Five little toes I love to count on each of your pudgy feet

Your hair a wispy, velvet mop

Your laugh a boisterous gurgle

Your arms still reach for me to carry you over each hurdle

I know these days are fleeting

And one day you’ll be a man

I squeeze this moment, inhale it deep

Because today, I can


Mama’s Losin’ It

Friday, March 27, 2015

"The Breakfast Club" is All Grown Up: Celebrating 30 Years


I sunk into my seat in the dark theater, relieved to be home free, palms sweaty from the rush of defying authority.

An older friend bought our tickets to see the new movie, The Breakfast Club. The movie was rated “R”, and I was far from seventeen, but there was no way I was going to miss it.

I fidgeted in my seat, crossing right leg over left, Converse high-top bobbing in time to my racing heart.  I dug in the pocket of my Guess jean jacket for the Junior Mints I’d purchased at 7-11.

The opening credits appeared on screen, set to the now infamous song, “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds.   A hush fell over the audience as one of the quintessential films of the 1980s opened with a quote from David Bowie’s 1971 song, Changes:



The screen shatters like glass and morphs into an image of Shermer High with this voice over from Anthony Michael Hall (watch it HERE):

Saturday, March 24, 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong, what we did was wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are, what do you care? You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at seven o'clock this morning.

*****

All of John Hughes’ films spoke to me as an adolescent in the 1980s, but The Breakfast Club truly touched on all of the Big Feelings I was having: peer pressure, fitting in, thoughts about boys, and growing awareness of kids with different or troubling circumstances.

The premise is simple:  five high school kids get thrown together to serve detention on a Saturday, each character a different stereotype one might encounter in the halls of your average high school:  The Athlete (Emilio Estevez), The Basket Case (Ally Sheedy), The Brain (Anthony Michael Hall), The Princess (Molly Ringwald), and The Criminal (Judd Nelson).

The movie follows these kids throughout their day of detainment, threatened by the laughably cruel school principal who instructs them not to talk, move from their seats, or sleep.

The kids, inevitably, break all of these rules and get into mischief.  But in the process, they open up to each other, form unexpected alliances, and eventually realize they have more in common than not.

Heavy stuff comes out.  We learn that The Brain, who appears to be “a parent’s wet dream,” contemplated suicide after getting a bad grade.

The Criminal has a cigar-shaped burn on his forearm as evidence of his troubles at home.  The Athlete is under constant pressure from his father to be The Best.  The Princess is caught in the crossfire of her parents’ marital troubles.  The Basket Case is a compulsive liar.


These personalities connect after hours of chipping away at each other.  But the harsh reality that these common bonds will not be enough to cross the lines of the cliques come Monday morning is a jagged pill which most teenagers are familiar with swallowing.

In 1985, I identified with parts of each of these characters.  As only a teenager could do, I had phased through different personas, like trying on prom dresses in a poorly-lit dressing room, always looking from a different angle and never being satisfied.

Thirty years later, I am still enamored with each of these characters and the stories they have to tell.

And I suppose this is why I can’t help but gather some girlfriends together to catch The Breakfast Club on the big screen one last time to mark the milestone 30th anniversary.

*****

I sunk into my seat in the dark theater, crossing my legs out of habit, then correcting myself, remembering that this is what causes the unsightly spider veins on my legs.

There are no Junior Mints in my pockets, but I’ve brought a gluten-free, 100 calorie treat in case I need a sweet fix in addition to the popcorn I’ve allowed myself. There’s bottled water in my seat’s cup holder, instead of Coca-Cola.  Caffeine triggers my migraines.

This is 44.

But once the movie started, I felt like a kid again.  I dutifully laughed at Principal Vernon right up until the scene where he and The Criminal go head-to-head, and The Criminal ends up with two months of detention.

At that point, I slid back into parent mode and recalled a similar exchange recently between me and my tween daughter.

I did not use the “you mess with the bull, you’ll get the horns” line, but now I have that in my back pocket for next time.

Sheesh.

When did I become the uncool, pain-in-the-ass adult in the scenario?

Watching this movie as a grown-up really does have its advantages, though.

Top parenting takeaways?

Don’t talk down to kids & treat them like jerks, or you’ll end up like the Barry Manilow wardrobe-raided idiot principal.

Teenagers are balled-up tangled webs of emotions walking around begging to be heard and understood, yet shooting off at us like firecrackers for even daring to try. We must persevere, lest our kids feel ignored, which according to Ally Sheedy’s character is the worst.

Times really have not changed that much, and all the pressure kids feel to perform academically, socially, and athletically is not really a 2015 thing.  It was a 1985 thing, too.

Watching The Breakfast Club is every parent’s dream come true. How often do we long to get inside our kids’ heads? It all comes flooding back…the uncertainty, the insecurity, the angst…it is all very real, and I never want to forget what that feels like.

In three short years, my daughter will be a teen.  If she ever accuses me with, “Mom, you just don’t understand!”

I want to be able to say, “Yes. Yes, I do understand what you’re going through.”

And I want to really mean it.

The Breakfast Club was one of the first movies that took teen’s emotions seriously and validated their struggles, which allows the film to stand the test of time.

Bottom line? Teenagers are people, too.

In the words of Carl the janitor to Principal Vernon,

“C’mon, Vern, the kids haven’t changed, you have.”

Carl was a smart man, even if he did major in the Custodial Arts.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lighten the Load

It was really hard to come here.

Is that a confession I’m allowed to make?

Coming here means acknowledging that a mother can lose a child.

That this kind of thing really happens to people other than strangers on the news.

Coming here means admitting that it could just as easily have happened to me, instead of you.

I don’t have an answer for why it’s you and not me.

I don’t know.

I do know that there should never be a funeral for a child.

Never.

Ever.

But then never turns to sometimes, and sometimes becomes your worst nightmare.

I didn’t have the privilege of knowing your baby, but you know mine.

And that means something to me.

For the better part of a year, you spent more hours of the day with her as her teacher than I did as her mother.

You were sweet, kind, stern, loving, and exactly what she needed you to be.

She came out better for having known you, for which I can never repay you.

Except maybe I can try today.

Today I come here to lift one brick off the load that has tumbled out of the heavens and buried you alive, somewhere between the Darkest Place on Earth and Hell, I imagine.

It’s all I can do to be here today, to lift just one brick off the pile of your suffering, I know.  It’s only one small piece of your pain and tears.

But I hope that the person before me will do likewise, as well as the person beside me and behind me, and together, with each person who passes through the door of the church, you will feel your load lightening.

And with each friend who reaches out to you with a card, a meal, or a remembrance, we will all together create a crack in the pile of bricks just large enough for a ray of light to shine through to your darkness.

A light that brings hope, peace, and love, even just for a moment in time.

We are all here, and we don’t know what to say or do, but we know we can do this for you today.

I am here today, as a fellow mother, holding space for your precious girl.

Carrying & absorbing whatever grief and pain I can manage and sending back love and prayers to surround you.

I’m sorry, and I wish I could do more.



In remembrance of Kobi Isabella Pickett (March 15, 1999 - January 11, 2015)



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best of 2014

2014 is coming to a close, and the ads on tv say I should be wearing a sparkly, silver mini-dress while  laughing and holding a glass of champagne.  But since overindulging consistently since Halloween, I can fit into nothing but yoga pants or a muumuu.  C'est la vie.

And since I'm too stuffed and bloated to write anything new, I give you my top five best-read posts of 2014, in case you missed any of them:

Head + Heart - My Messy Beautiful

I wrote this for the "Messy Beautiful Summer Series" at Momastery.com.  Glennon Melton is one of my favorite bloggers/writers, and I wanted to be a part of the collection of personal essays from her readers. Out of the many writers who submitted their stories, I was thrilled and honored to be selected as a featured writer.  The comments my post received on her site and on social media were overwhelming and encouraging.  This is the reason I do what I do.


Divine Secrets of the Duran Duran Sisterhood

The number one search term that leads traffic to my site is Duran Duran, so I guess I'm doing something right.  There must be a plethora of insomnia-riddled, middle-aged women googling DD at two in the morning.  Maybe they didn't find exactly what they were looking for, but I hope I made them smile and remember some things they hadn't thought of in awhile.



A Letter to the Preschool Teacher

One thing every mother in the world can identify with is the trepidation with which we hand off our little ones into unknown hands.  Things can go well, and your child can be blessed with a second mother. Or things can not go well, and you end up undoing the damage done for many years to come.  I am happy to report that my Little Man is in good hands, and I am sleeping well at night.


Facing the Darkness

Probably not my most cheerful post, and certainly difficult to write, but life-changing for me.  My eyes are open, and although I still haven't figured out what I can do to really make a difference in the war against human trafficking, at least I can help spread awareness, pray for the victims, and add my voice to the many who are dedicated to bringing light to this tragic issue of modern day slavery.

Love Letter to My Girl

My firstborn turned ten this year, and the milestone did not go unchecked with me.  I think every mother's heart bursts with emotion on these important days, and I wanted my daughter to have something tangible she could tuck away in a drawer and read and re-read as the years pass by, as they tend to do, without our permission.

Thank you for being here with me in this cozy, little corner of cyberspace.  Reading and thinking.  Laughing and maybe drying a tear.  I treasure your comments, likes and shares here and on social media.

Blessings and love to you all in 2015!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ghost of Christmas Past

The house is quiet.

Perry Como is crooning about Christmastime in the City.
 
My wine glass is full.

After cleaning out the DVR, I plan to crawl into bed with my book and prepare for a long winter’s nap, not to be interrupted by anything short of an earthquake.

Contentment and satisfaction reign supreme, but then I feel a whispery tap on my shoulder, imploring me to turn away from the ease of the present and remember what is missing.

*****

“HO, HO, HO, time to wake up! It’s Christmas morn!”

I burrowed deeper into my nest of covers and clamped my eyes shut to the light from the window and the booming, cheerful voice I instantly recognized as my father’s.

“Come on now, Tootsie, everyone’s waiting to open presents!”

I was tempted to roll over and dig deeper into my cover-cave, but at the mention of “Tootsie,” his pet name for me, I couldn’t help but acquiesce to his request.

I dragged myself out of bed and followed him down the hall as he cheerfully hummed “Joy to the World” in time to my every step.

*****

The presents had been opened, the wrappings discarded like old dishrags with holes.

The parade on tv was over, and there was nothing more to do than wait for Christmas dinner to be served in the dining room, timed perfectly to conclude just before the start of the football game.

“Tootsie, let’s have some Christmas carols, shall we?”

With an eye roll only a teenager could muster, I shuffled to the piano to indulge the requests for “We Three Kings” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

As I belted out the majestic opening chords of my father’s favorite Christmas carol, I braced myself for the booming baritone that was sure to follow.

And I was not disappointed.

*****

As the last of the presents are wrapped, the wine glass is emptied, and I start off for bed, I pass by the old, out-of-tune Chickering piano and feel like I’m seeing it for the first time.

The rich, cherry-wood exterior, hiding the gilded gold strings inside.  Antique white keys offset with (some) faulty black notes comprise a beautifully grand set that provide an endless recipe for glorious song.

I couldn’t help but sit down on the creaky old bench and dig out my very first Christmas book, the music I’d been playing since I was a kid.



Silent Night

The First Noel

O Come All Ye Faithful

As I tuck into the familiar striking of the notes and placement of my fingers, I can feel the comforting, strong presence of my Dad standing behind me at the bench, belting out each of the carols with uninhibited zeal.

This is the piece of the Christmas experience that I’ve been searching for this year, wanting for, desperately.

Something I wake in the night dreaming of, wandering through the house seeking.

But it will not be found.

He is gone and nothing will bring him back, and I have to remember this over and over.

But he is with me as much as he can be.

In the smile of my son, his namesake.

In the carols I play on the piano, always remembering his favorites.

In the memories I replay of Christmases past.

I take small pieces of all of these holidays gone by, wrap them up in my arms like a newborn baby, and carry them around with me as I go through these days.

And together, these pieces all come together to complete me.

The me that I believe he always knew would be.