Category: Family & Parenting
Imagine a world without laughter. Smiling and giggling just make us feel good. Even science backs this up. When we laugh, we release endorphins, lower stress levels, increase blood flow throughout the body, strengthen our immune system, and best of all, we get to experience a natural high that sends us to a better place. For the past week, while I nursed my daughter back to health after she had agonizing gum surgery, she and I had to bottle up our laughs to allow the incisions in her mouth to heal––not to mention it hurt like hell. This was no easy feat, particularly because we share a similar sense of humor and know just the right lines to induce the giggles.
The only thing to do to keep her mind off the pain and discomfort was to watch somber and serious television shows. Together, we binged two and a half seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale. Although there’s nothing funny about a dystopian society where women are oppressed and treated like slaves, I had to bite my tongue from making funny jokes referencing the show. Prior to watching it, I had seen two Saturday Night Live skits about The Handmaid’s Tale, which at the time I didn’t understand, but now that I had seen the show, I wanted to watch the skits again with my daughter; however, that wasn’t an option. When it was time to pick another show to watch, we scrolled through a list of rom-coms, but then we remembered that comedy was too risky, so along with everything else humorous, that too was off limits. I wanted to suggest a documentary on slugs or a comparative study about paint drying, but I kept my jokes to myself in case a smile burst forth.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that she was banned from laughter, could barely eat, had difficulty sleeping, looked like a chipmunk with her swollen cheeks, and was in perpetual pain—we were subjected to sobering television. And, as for me, I became her Martha (a reference to The Handmaid’s Tale), slaving to her every need and feeling sympathy pangs for her suffering. I tried to help put her situation into perspective, lecturing her that she was going to be okay, she was going to heal, and thankfully, this wasn’t a life-altering condition. She heard me, but my words didn’t ease her discomfort. Under any other circumstances, when she’s upset about something, I can make her laugh at some point, adding light to whatever teenage drama she is experiencing at the time. Not having the freedom to release a good chuckle made her recovery that much more trying, and it broke my heart that she wore a perpetual pout on her beautiful face, like petals of a flower struggling to bloom.
Without the sweet taste of laughter, life had become bland as we swallowed our grins and giggles, waiting for the day when we could let it all out. Meanwhile, to combat the dismal mood in our home, we looked for joy in other ways. Holding her hand or rubbing her back, I told her how much I loved her. Sitting outside, we admired the mountain scenery, smelled the fresh air, and basked in the warm, summer sun. Even though she couldn’t bite into a sandwich or a chip and was limited to a soft, mushy diet, she could still lick a spoonful of Nutella and a dish of ice cream with salted caramel chocolate fudge. Smiling on the inside, I watched her savor the treats. In time, she will heal, and when she does you better believe that she and I are going to laugh so hard we double over from a stomachache. And when that moment arrives, it will be the most delicious pain we’ve ever felt.
As parents, we are intricately tied to our children’s emotions, riding the waves right along with them. We want everything to work out in their favor. We want them to feel good about themselves. We want their dreams to manifest. But as adults, with much more life experience, we know that’s not how life works. Life sometimes punches us in the gut. And when our children are suffering, we suffer too.
Many years ago, I read an article in the New York Times about twenty-year-olds who were depressed, despite having grown up in seemingly perfect families. At first, the therapist was perplexed, wondering what had gone wrong. After all, they had supportive and loving parents and were financially well-off. If the child didn’t do well in math, they got tutors. If the child needed extra conditioning sessions in sports, they worked with a personal coach. The parents had done their best to fix their children’s mistakes, paving the road to ensure a smooth journey. What the therapist soon discovered was that these helicopter parents, in their attempts to protect their kids from failure and rejection, deprived their offspring of one of the most important ingredients to success: resilience.
Recently, things did not work out in my seventeen-year-old daughter’s favor when she found out that she didn’t make the high school sports team she had been working so hard for. The week-long tryouts were intense and created a lot of stress in our house. I gave many pep talks and tried to encourage her not to waste her time worrying about the outcome. On the dreaded day, moments before she heard the disappointing news, I was pacing around my house, trembling in fear and praying for her. When I finally got the call, her voice on the other end of the phone was hysterical, and my heart fell to the floor. Knowing how important it was for me to be strong for her, I had to do some soul searching myself, so that I could lift her spirits and help her rise above her circumstances.
My daughter had an important decision to make. One, as a junior, she could play on the JV team with the other underclassmen, work her ass off both on and off the field, and ultimately prove to her coach and herself that she could excel and become a dominant player. Two, she could quit and devote her energy to activities that make her feel good. Coaches and teachers play powerful positions in the lives of children. With one word, they can make or break a kid. This coach destroyed my child’s self-esteem, and so, my daughter decided that it was time to move on from playing her favorite sport. I told her that I support whatever decision she makes. Right now, as I write this post, the wound is still fresh and raw, even though I know that time will heal it.
The question remains, will the scar hold her back or propel her forward? How do we teach our children to believe in themselves when external forces are telling them the opposite? This is probably the greatest test of all: learning how to be resilient and bounce back after failure and rejection. Everyone is going to face rejection at some point. It’s part of life. For those young adults written about in the New York Times article, it seems their parents had failed them by not allowing their kids the opportunity to build their resilience muscles. Nothing feels worse than failing, but on the same note, finding success after you’ve been kicked to the ground is the greatest gift of all. If life is a game, we’re all going to lose at some point, but the true winners keep playing. That doesn’t mean you need to continue playing the same game where you previously felt rejection. Find a new game––if that’s what fuels you. Most of all, define yourself by your own set of standards, not the standards set by others. We are the creators of our lives, not the victims of our circumstances. So I will tell my daughter to get back out there on the field of life and be a creator––and work toward becoming the best version of herself. Victory comes to those who love themselves first, those who move through life with compassion, and those who rewrite their stories as many times as it takes to become the person they came here to be. Instead of being angry at the coach who, metaphorically speaking, slapped my daughter across the face, I will thank her (in my mind, of course) for the lesson, the lesson that I am confident she will one day triumph over.
I’ve never been a cat person. It’s not that I dislike them in any way, but since I considered myself a dog lover, cats were never on my radar––until recently—when a cat came into my life.
A few months ago, my husband adopted a cat from a nearby shelter for his business. His job was to kill the mice and other unwanted critters. Each day, my husband, who, like me, was also indifferent toward felines, would come home and tell the kids and me stories about his four-legged worker. He felt a strange connection to the timid, little animal, who most likely had been living on the streets before he was rescued. It took time for the cat to adjust to the other employees and feel comfortable in his new setting. Presumably, he had spent the first four years of his life devoid of human touch. Once he acclimated to his surroundings, he grew less fearful and more affectionate toward people.
Something was tugging at my husband’s heart, and he felt sorry for his animal employee when he left him alone in the office, so he decided to bring him home to meet our family. At the time, our dog Otis was alive, and of course, our friendly canine welcomed this foreign creature onto his turf. The cat, on the other hand, was not a fan of Otis. He would hiss at him whenever he got close and then run off and hide.
It took the cat well over a month to get used to the kids and me. With every passing day, he would come out of hiding and inch his way toward us, allowing us to pet him on his terms—only. He watched us with a wary eye, studying our moves and making sure we weren’t going to harm him. He also studied how we interacted with Otis, as we cuddled and showered him with love and affection. Then, one day, the cat made his way toward our big, fluffy dog to get a closer look. Realizing that the dog was a kind animal and had no intention of mauling him, he eventually befriended Otis.
I now understand where the term copycat comes from, because the cat liked to copy some of the dog’s mannerisms, mimicking how he would lie down, sprawling his hind legs or front paws. Slowly but surely, the cat started to sleep next to Otis. Jealous that Otis went outside, the cat wanted to follow suit. So we let him. Living in the mountains, we were concerned that he would get eaten by a wild animal. Thankfully, the guy has nine lives, and he always shows up at our front door, asking to come back inside when he’s ready. There were days when he would accompany Otis and me on our walks around the block. A few months living in our home, and we officially had a cat.
The hardest part about our new family member was accepting that we had become cat people. Giving him a name meant there was no turning back; we were keeping him indefinitely. We also couldn’t agree on a name, so we just called him Cat. (By the way, as I write this post, Cat is curled up on my lap, deliciously snoozing on my belly.) No offense to all the cat lovers out there, but sadly, there are a lot of cat haters in the world. Soon after Cat moved in, I discovered that people were prejudiced toward these adorable pets. Friends mocked us, some even jokingly threatened not to come over anymore. My own mother cringes at the thought of a cat. What’s wrong with these ignorant and closed-minded people? They like dogs, but they despise cats. The only logical explanation I can think of is that they don’t know cats, or they want cats to act like dogs. But they’re nothing like dogs. Otis, the Aspen ambassador, would excitedly greet everyone who came toward him. Not the cat. When he meets a new face, he beelines for a hiding spot, and he has rules that we need to follow. For example, cuddling is only allowed when he’s in the mood, and if you need to get up in the middle of a cuddle session, don’t expect to resume the position when you return. Now that I’ve gotten to know him, I have a better sense of how he communicates, and I respect his rules.
As a spiritual person, I always try to understand the greater meaning as to why we attract certain experiences into our lives. For a while, I questioned why Cat had joined our family. Having recently lost Otis, I am far from ready to get another dog. Desperate for animal love, I looked to the cat to console me while I was in mourning. Much to my dismay, I discovered that wasn’t his style. He comes to me when I least expect it, when I’m not needy. I get it. I, too, can’t stand needy people. I find them irritating. To earn Cat’s love, we were forced to be patient, not to ask, but to be open to receiving. As soon as we did what was expected of us, he sauntered onto our laps—and stole our hearts. To all the cat haters out there: I am no longer ashamed to tell the world that I am now a cat person, and I LOVE MY CAT!
I am well aware of how fortunate I am to raise my children in one of the most majestic mountain towns in the United States, and yet, despite the privilege of living here, we also make sacrifices. When we moved to Aspen from New Jersey, my kids immediately took advantage of the outdoor lifestyle and world-class skiing in our backyard. I get much pleasure from proudly watching my daughter gracefully race down a ski run at top speed, and I’m blown away by my son when he hops through moguls like a bunny rabbit and flips off a cliff, spinning his skis in the air like an acrobat.
Along with skiing, my children also love to play lacrosse. Thankfully, Aspen has a well-organized and incredible club team and high school program that both my kids participate in. The downside of playing lacrosse in Aspen is that we travel long distances for games. Since our winters last longer than those in the Denver area, our lacrosse season is much shorter, and we also don’t have an indoor facility, so our teams are typically not as strong as others in Colorado.
Last season, my son, Judd, asked me if he could try out for an elite lacrosse team in Denver, where the level of play is much more competitive. Reluctantly, I agreed. The tryouts were held over two weekends at the end of the summer. Watching the tryouts, I was impressed with the high level of competition and skill these thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds demonstrated on the field. Judd, who has had exponentially less play time than most of those kids, went out there with an insatiable hunger and determination. Miraculously, he made the team.
As thrilled as I was for him, I was also dreading the commitment. Practices were twice a week for an hour and a half—in Denver, which meant for the next three months, on those days I would have to pick up Judd from school at around 1:30 p.m. and drive three and a half hours each way! That’s a total of seven hours of driving round-trip, fourteen hours a week, through the mountains, navigating dark, windy roads getting back to Aspen.
For inspiration and validation that I wasn’t insane, I spoke to another Aspen family whose son made the team a few years ago and did the same crazy drive. They said exactly what I was thinking: My son has a passion, and the flexibility in my schedule gives me the opportunity to fuel that passion. Time is slipping by fast, and before I know it, Judd will be heading off to college. I can use this opportunity to embrace the memories we make during the car ride and the joy I get from watching him on the field. Back in Aspen, Judd would rather hang with his friends than with me. But on those drives, it’s just us––chatting and listening to music or podcasts, and I get the added comfort of knowing he is safe with me, not making bad decisions with his peers. After every practice, we discuss how he did, how he can improve, and how to stay focused and enthusiastic. On the good days, we fist-pump, and on the bad days, I give pep talks. Another bonus is that we both made new friends who we’ve had the pleasure of traveling with for weekend-long tournaments in California and Nevada.
Embarking together on this lacrosse journey is teaching us both a kind of spiritual wisdom. Judd, of course, is learning to release and rise above negative thinking when he makes mistakes, disappoints his coach, or isn’t playing to his potential. Working at such an extraordinary level of play with other teammates is also humbling, and at the same time, pushes him to be the best he can be on the field. Many of us go through life comparing ourselves to others. Wherever we land, we will always encounter someone who is faster, smarter, stronger, taller, or more athletic. Judd is learning to access his inner strength, which lies within each of us, and use that silent power to grow as a player and as a human.
I, on the other hand, am learning to live in the moment. When my children were babies I breastfed them for almost a year. The first few months were not easy—but knowing they were getting so many amazing health benefits, I had no intention of giving up. I remember someone once told me to savor the experience, especially the dreaded late-night feedings, when I rocked my babies in the quiet stillness, bonding with them in one of motherhood’s most beautiful and miraculous gifts. This wise person warned me that it goes quickly, and after I stop breastfeeding all I would have left were the memories of holding them in my arms, feeling their soft flesh against mine, deeply connected. As strange as this may sound, I am doing my best to treasure this time with Judd in a similar way to the breastfeeding experience. He’s now fourteen, and my days of cuddling and holding hands with him are long gone, and sadly, even hugs are less frequent. Instead, I get to enjoy my almost-man as he sits next to me during the long car rides, talking and laughing, and rooting and cheering for him on and off the field. So every time I’m about to complain about my achy, sore back; the occasional traffic; driving in the horrid, snowy conditions; feeling anger over the one speeding ticket I got; wondering why the hell I am doing this; and convincing myself that he better play division-one lacrosse in college and earn a big, fat scholarship, I force myself to stop and remember that all this driving isn’t about that; it’s about living in the moment with my son, who is learning how to spread his wings before he’s ready to take off one day and conquer the world.