What to Expect – The Teenage Years

One of my co-workers gave birth to a beautiful baby girl recently. A pretty pink card was passed around the office so that we could all write words of congratulations to her and her husband on becoming parents. Most of my colleagues signed the card with cute sayings like – “Welcome to the world” and “Can’t wait to meet the little bundle of joy.”

I, on the other hand, really wanted to pass along my words of wisdom. (I didn’t – but I wanted to). I’ll never forget what a good friend of mine wrote to me right before I was about to give birth to my daughter: “First the pain, then the pleasure, then the patience.”

At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about – but 17+ years into this parenting gig and now I get it. In case I need to spell it out for anyone – The pain is childbirth. The pleasure is all the cuddles and cuteness that babies and toddlers bring. The patience, well that would be the teenage years.

The God’s honest truth is that I love this stage of their lives when they become young adults and see their individual gifts they will soon contribute to make the world a better place. But, let’s face it. We parents need a lot of patience when it comes to raising teenagers. And full disclaimer–patience has never been my strong suit.

I remember when those “What to Expect” books were helpful for potty training, sleeping schedules and socializing. Unfortunately, those books stop at the second year of their lives–which is a real shame.If there was a “What to Expect” book for raising teenagers, I think this is what the table of contents would look like.

Chapter 1 – Patience – Get Some. You are Going to Need It.

Chapter 2 – The Front Seat  – Birds, Bees, Smoking, Drinking, Drugs, Politics – and other conversations you will have with your child when you are driving them somewhere.

Chapter 3 – The Passenger Seat – Where you sit, hold tight and pray while you teach them how to drive.

Chapter 4 – Clean Your Room – Is this worth the battle?

Chapter 5 – Grounded! – Discipline beyond timeouts and swear jars

Chapter 6 – Cell phones and Social Media – Necessary evil or perfect parenting tool?

Chapter 7 –  Friends – Fights and Forgiveness

Chapter 8 – Dating – Need I say more?

Chapter 9 – The Tough Stuff (Part I) – Teen depression, anxiety, bullying and so much more.

Chapter 10 – The Tough Stuff (Part II) – Love and limits. Roots and wings

big kidIt ain’t easy. It’s quite a journey, But, I’ll say one thing – it’s all worth it.

Day Camp – The End of An Era

Some of my favorite childhood memories came from attending day camp. I made many friends there; many of whom I still talk to over Facebook to this day. I was a camper, a C.I.T., a senior counselor, and a bus counselor. I took countless trips to the Jersey shore with my fellow campers where we walked the boardwalk and rode  the amusements at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier until the sun went down. And then there were the boys–first crushes, first loves, summer romances and a great soundtrack of ’80s and ’90s music to embrace it all. I remember it like it was yesterday.

elbowlane3When I grew up and had kids of my own, I wanted to enroll them in summer camp as soon as possible. I may have been more excited on their first day of camp than they were. Jenna started when she was just 4 years old. She went for half a day at first, came home happy and exhausted. She loved it so much that she asked if she could go back during the school year. It was an easy decision to switch her to a full day the following summer. A few years after that Andrew joined her there. For the longest time, I schlepped the two of them to and from camp because I thought they were too young to take the bus.

Soon enough, they got on the bus, learned to swim, played every kind of sport imaginable, created artistic “treasures” in pottery class, danced in camp music videos, conquered the rock wall and the zip line and made s’mores, friends and memories. Both kids looked forward to extra swims on hot afternoons. Fridays brought Carnival Day, County Fairs, Water Fun Day, and sometimes sleepovers on the campgrounds. Even the parents flocked to camp to see what the kids were up to on Visitors Day and Family Fun Night.

elbowlane5I can’t believe that 13 years have flown by and just like that, my kids have outgrown their beloved day camp. When the reminder email to register for this summer came the other day, I had to send a heartfelt goodbye to the camp director.

“After over a decade of day camp at Elbow Lane, our kids will sadly not be returning this year. Jenna and Andrew have truly enjoyed their experience as campers from the time they were Munchkins through Senior Camp and as C.I.T.s. They learned to swim (thanks to your wonderful instructors), made many friends and had a lot of fun along the way. Please remove us from your mailing list.”

elbowlane2I received the following reply back from the camp director within minutes:

“Thank you for the kind words. Its been many years together and I value your support and loyalty for every one of those years! Best Wishes to both Jenna and Andrew as they grow into young adulthood!  We will take you off our list.”

And just like that, another childhood milestone passed me by…and a very fond one at that. Fortunately, the kids remain in touch with their friends outside of camp and I hope that stays that way along with memories that I’m sure will last a lifetime.

We will miss you Elbow Lane!

Write Every Day? Really?

Hear me out.There are two schools of thought on how to be a great writer.

Write every day.

Don’t write every day.

In writing workshops, this argument can get intense. For those who have never experienced this heated conversation, it can be compared to the ongoing breastfeeding or bottle-feeding debate. It’s a personal decision. People typically pick a side and remain adamant about their choices.

I’ve tried writing both ways and I still can’t decide. Here is what I have discovered.

Writing every day is something that I can absolutely do, when I really commit to it. For me, this means I must wake up at the crack of dawn to write a blog post. Why so early in the morning? Because I have a day job and a family and a dog that begs for my attention. And laundry and dishes and…and…and…you get the idea.

Plus, I’m a morning person so it is truly the best time for me to write. Once I get something down on paper (yes paper!), I have a cup of coffee and type it up. Then I walk away from my laptop and allow myself time to think about what I want to add or change. This is also when I decide whether or not I really want to share what I’ve just written with the world. I make edits, proofread it one more time and then hit publish. The entire process takes about 1-2 hours–for one blog post–because I care about what I write. Because I want you to read it and like it or at least have it resonate with you in some way.

I take that responsibility to heart and I hope I deliver.

But, maintaining this routine every day is a lot of pressure. I sign up for blog challenges (like the one I’m doing now) with the best of intentions. But usually by the second week, I fizzle out and then I gain momentum again.

Does this mean I’m not committed to writing? Certainly not! (How could you ask me that? :) )

What it means though is that sometimes I like to let the writing come naturally. I often believe I do my best work that way. Sure, if I was writing a novel, my ass would be in a chair all day, every day until my deadline. Perhaps, there are different rules for bloggers. If not, there should be because there are some days where I have nothing to offer.

I know the ultimate goal is to develop good writing habits and get into a routine. Since, I write and edit every day at work, I think that should count towards my writing time–even if it isn’t for my own blog.

Clearly I’m torn so I do a hybrid of both methods when I write. But I think I’m still developing good habits. Quite honestly, I could beat myself up about this or I could just sleep in.

 

A Kinder Killer Instinct

In a fairly recent 1-1 with my boss, I asked what I needed to do to get to the next level. His answer was to develop a killer instinct. I knew the term, but I never really considered it necessary to succeed. My professional toolbox consists of being a hard worker, a willingness to learn from others, a good listener and having the self-confidence to share my experiences, be persuasive where needed and conciliatory when required.

Months later, I still can’t get this comment out of my head. So, I recently looked up the phrase just to be sure I knew what he meant.

  • A ruthless determination to succeed or win; competitive
  • A way of behaving in order to achieve an advantage for yourself without considering or worrying if it hurts other people

Well, I’m determined, but I’m certainly not ruthless. I look to achieve great things, but I’m not going to push others down to get there.
Let’s face it. I’m no tough cookie, but, I’m not a doormat either. So, where does that leave me? Is there happy medium?

And then I thought, maybe there is. Why can’t I develop my own brand of killer instinct? Here is what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Setting a goal and then work backwards – For instance, I have a goal of losing 25 pounds by the end of the year. It isn’t going to happen overnight. so I’ve broken this down into much smaller and manageable goals of a pound or two a week. This allows me to focus on small victories and not allow myself to be overwhelmed by the big picture.
  • Being accountable – When I was looking for a new job a few years ago, I hired a career coach. Every week, we would sit down for a meaningful discussion and he would give me homework for the week. The following week, we would talk about what I worked on, what was stopping me from moving forward and eventually inching towards my goal. Having someone to report to about my progress is essential to my success.
  • Putting in the work – No one else is going to do it but me. If I don’t do it, it isn’t going to happen.
  • Embrace setbacks – Not every day is going to be perfect. The fact that I tried has to account for something. The past is the past and I’ll keep going until I get where I want to be.
  • Keep going – My resilience is much stronger than my need to win. When I fall down, I think about what I can learn from my mistakes and then pick myself back up. I don’t quit.
  • Be true to myself – I’m not someone that needs to win at all costsWe are all in this together. I’ll be your mentor, your friend, or your biggest cheerleader for you and I hope you will be for me as well.

What does your brand of “killer instinct” look like?

Judging A Book By Its Library

library shelvesI still remember standing on my tiptoes to reach the higher drawers of the card catalog in the library. If there was no step stool nearby, I’d walk over to the front desk and ask the librarian for help. She would help me look up what I needed and then take me to the right spot in the library to find my book. While there, I was free to search the stacks to my heart’s content for other books on the same topic or by the same author or discover something completely different that might interest me. Those were the good ol’ days.

When I was a college student, things were a little more high-tech. I sat in front of a computer monitor and typed in the subject, author or title of the book. No step stool necessary. Within seconds, the computer would cough up the names of all the books with similar titles and authors. I’d print out the list on the dot-matrix printer on the other side of the library and then walk up the stairs to peruse the shelves for my book.

Today–25 years later–I learned about the latest in library technology on a college tour. Students walk up to a kiosk, type in the book they want, and WAIT FOR IT…a robotic arm will find the book and deliver it to a central location where a staff member will place it on a pickup shelf for convenience.

l_bookbot_1

Yes, you read that right…a robotic arm. The official name for this is BookBot–a book retrieval and delivery system which apparently saves on shelf space and opens up the opportunity for more classrooms and meeting spaces on campus. Or maybe just another Starbucks.

The tour guide likened this state-of-the-art system to ordering a hoagie at a Wawa. Just walk up to the counter and make your selection from countless options on the screen and hit enter. Within minutes, someone makes your hoagie, wraps it up and delivers it right to you. But in this scenario, the hoagie is a book and the person who is waiting on you is replaced with a robotic arm.

As a self-proclaimed book nerd and now library geek, I find this whole thing rather depressing. This truly takes all the fun out of discovering other literary treasures in the library. And honestly, where does it end? Will an army of robots soon be deployed around campus hunting students down for their overdue library books? Will a robot stay at her doorway and hold her hostage until she uses her iPay app to pay the fine?

Of course, when I asked her if she thought this was creepy or cool, she thought it was awesome.

I, on the other hand, miss the card catalog.

Reading Material

I’ll be honest. I’ve had a long day and night and all I want to do is curl up with a good book. But, I promised myself, I’d write 31 days in a row and I’m sticking to it. After yesterday’s more serious post, it’s time to have some fun.

I have plenty of books to choose from in my TBR pile which is why I banned myself from Barnes and Noble. My pile is way too big and I don’t think I should buy any more books until I read the ones I already have.

So what’s a girl who loves to read and write do to fill the void? I am on the hunt for merchandise about reading and writing–coffee mugs, earrings, tote bags. They aren’t books, so it is perfectly legal in my own mind. But it may be getting out of hand.

It started with a pair of earring that were a must have. These made me smile so I bought them.

earrings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
(BUY HERE)

Next, I added a coffee mug to my already full cabinets of mugs. I try to be selective when it comes to coffee mugs. Lots of the sayings speak to me; this one screamed BUY ME. My co-workers agreed this one was worth every penny.

coffee mug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then the mug, led me to this t-shirt.

t-shirts-i-m-silently-correcting-your-grammar-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What can I say?

And now, I am eyeing up the next “must have” on my list. It is the perfect accessory for when I go to the movies with my friends to see A Wrinkle In Time.

pin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I may have taken this too far. Maybe I should just go back to Barnes and Noble where I belong.

What is your favorite book/writer merch? Share in the comments section – along with the link where I can buy it! :)

 

 

 

 

Healthy & Grateful

I’ll start this post off by telling all of you that I’m fine. I promise. But, for a while, I wasn’t so sure.

Two days after my last mammogram I was called back for more tests. Getting a mammogram once a year never really bothered me. After having a dozen or so already, it is all routine to me at this point. Do not use any deodorant or powder on the day of the test. Try to remember the last day of my period and curse myself for not writing it down on my calendar (again). Figure out the best way to put on the green shirt that opens in the front. Sit in the smaller room with several other green-shirted ladies waiting their turn. It only takes five minutes for the technician to take some pretty pictures and then I check mammogram off my to do list and go about the rest of my day.

It’s always the days after the mammogram that concerned me the most. I’m sure I never noticed before that I was holding my breath waiting for a letter or a phone call. For all those years, I got the letter in the mail and breathed a sigh of relief.

This time, for the first time, I got the phone call and I couldn’t breathe.

“We’d like you to come back for more tests,” she said.
“97% of the time everything is fine,” she said.
But we just have to make sure,” she said.

My doctor rattled off all the reasons it could possibly be that I had to go back. The machine wasn’t working properly. Maybe I’ve gained a little weight. And things change as you get older.

Clearly, this wasn’t the first time she gave this speech to one of her patients. But then, she ended the call by telling me to take a few deep breaths, go back to work and try not to worry. And I wanted to say – you mean go back to the non-profit I work for where I write stories about people with cancer all day long? What a great idea!

Two weeks later, I went back to the imaging center and it was anything but routine. But, I knew whatever the results were, I could handle it.

I put on the same green shirt that month and sat in the same small waiting room. The nurse checked my insurance information and handed me a laminated purple paper describing the reason for the test and what to expect. I looked around at the other ladies in the room and saw a few of them holding the same purple paper I don’t know why I never noticed that before.

Since they read the results right there, I had to wait…and wait…and wait. I felt like my whole future was in someone else’s hands…beyond my control. I tried to distract myself, but my phone wasn’t charged (of all days!). I walked over to the pitiful selection of magazines on the end table–several issues of Golf Digest and Good Housekeeping from last Christmas. Not one People magazine. I took a cat nap instead.

And after what seemed like hours, but was really only about 20 minutes or so–I was given the good news. I was fine–more then fine–healthy. And then she gave me a big smile, patted me on the back and said, “see you next year.”

And I finally breathed a sigh of relief.

Your Next Read

I’ve taken too many creative writing courses and sat in too many writing workshops by now to just appreciate a book from cover to cover. Now, I think about the author and the writing process he or she went through to get this story published. I think about the choices she made for her characters–everything from their mannerisms to their first names.

Roo. Ben. Rigel. Orion. Claude. Poppy.

One of the first questions I asked at my book club meeting after reading “This is How It Always Is” by Laurie Frankel was where did she come up with those names for the children in the book? And why did she pick one normal name and 5 really unusual ones.

Then, we dove into the meat of the story which is how to raise a child whose is born male, but whose gender is female. And how young is too young to decide that you want to be a boy instead of a girl? And how does a parent both support that child and protect them at the same time in the real world? How does keeping this family secret affect her siblings and what happens when it all comes crashing down?

There were some fascinating themes in this book. Real 21st century issues that I’ve only heard about in passing come to life in this book. It definitely made my own parenting worries seems much smaller than before I picked up this novel.

But, I think the best part of this book had nothing to do with the actual story and everything to do with the way the author told it. The words she used and the way she weaved them together into a compelling family drama captured my writer’s brain and my reader’s heart. Take this sentence that starts off a chapter about halfway through the book.

“Parent time is like fairy time but real. It is magic without pixie dust and spells. It defies physics without bending the laws of time and space. It is that truism that everyone offers but no one believes until after they children: that time will actually speed, fleet enough to leave you jet-lagged and whiplashed and racing all at once.”

Sound familiar? If so, pick up this unforgettable read.

Working the Room

It took me forever to get comfortable attending networking events. I used to think these gatherings were not for me, but better suited for salespeople who wanted to land their next client. I often felt like a fish in a barrel waiting for one of them to reel me in with their schpiel.

As a writer, the whole situation actually makes for good material. Each attendee has a backstory and a reason for being there. Some have a game plan or no game whatsoever. A few work the room with ease while others consider themselves successful because they got up the nerve to walk through the door.

When attending these events, I always took the “fake it til you make it” approach. I’m not a wallflower, but I’m not a salesman either. I am pretty good at small talk, so my strategy revolved around feigning self-confidence and walking up to someone who looked just as uncomfortable as I did, say hello and start up a conversation. Most of the time, it was a good experience–although there were some duds. We would practice our elevator pitches on each other, play the “do you know so and so” game, and then exchange business cards. Later, at home, I would find them on LinkedIn and add them to my contacts.

I met one of my good friends at a conference in Boston over 15 years ago. We were among the first to arrive, sat down together and introduced ourselves. As we made small talk, we found that we had a lot in common and we haven’t stopped talking since. She is an amazing person who encourages me to be my best self. I’m so glad I decided to sit next to her.

I have actually met a lot of friends in the same way–through networking. You just never know who you are going to meet and how you can help each other out. The more events I went to–the more amazing people I met and the better I got at this networking thing. I even started to enjoy myself.

Nowadays, my goal is to meet at least half the people in the room. It doesn’t need to be everyone, but it can’t just be one person either. I ask questions and get them to talk about themselves.My ultimate goal is to see how I can be of help to them instead of the other way around. I think that makes a lasting impression on people and later when I connect with them on LinkedIn, they remember me and often return the favor.

What is your game plan when it comes to networking?

An Ode to My Favorite Breath Mint

I can still remember the little brick butcher shop around the corner from my childhood home where my dad and sister would wait for my mom to come home from work off the NJ Transit bus. We would often go inside to say hi to Bob the butcher and wander around the store. And when we were good little girls, Dad would buy us Tic Tacs. I would always get the green spearmint ones.

tic tacsI can trace back my penchant for Tic Tacs to this one childhood memory–and I never grew out of it. If you have ever lived with me or traveled with me or sat in the cubicle next to me or have just been around me for a short or a long period of time, you know I always have Tic Tacs in my purse.

They stopped making the green ones a long time ago and I had to adjust my tastes to the orange flavored ones instead. I am nothing if not flexible, but you will never will you see a Certs or Lifesavers in my possession. Only Tic Tacs.

With my strong political opposition to our current president, you would think that his own liking for Tic Tacs taken before harassing a young and beautiful soap opera star would deter me, but it hasn’t. I like to think he popped the Fresh Mint variety—which are my least favorite kind and therefore that makes it okay.

I don’t know what it is exactly about the Tic Tacs that I like. I can tell you that when I get anxious and my stomach starts to feel uneasy–they are the first thing I take and automatically feel much better. I guess you could say they are my own bizarre kind of comfort food.

They are also truly the most inconvenient mint I could possibly purchase. All of the other mints are nicely packed in quiet paper wrappers or come in a muted tin box. Tic Tacs are loud and proud. They are not shy and there is just no way to sneak one out of its plastic container without everyone knowing about it. And yet, I am known to shake one (or 6) of them out at a time during a Shabbat service, a wedding, a funeral or a school play.

My family and friends are well aware of my Tic Tac habit. As an April Fools joke, a “shakeless” version of the packaging was advertised on the Tic Tacs website and someone immediately thought of me. It was covered in bubble wrap. Hilarious!

For my birthday, Jenna bought me a Vera Bradley backpack and encouraged me to look inside where I found 2 boxes of tic tacs. I have to admit, I’m not sure which gift I loved more. Priceless!

Friends from far away see Tic Tacs in the store and think of me, fondly I hope. So sweet!

Even my husband buys me for no apparent reason. Some husbands send flowers, but this is much less expensive and makes me equally as happy. Ah…true love!

 

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