For Everyone Who Worries About The Kids In Their Lives Who Worry

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mommy....Is There A Santa Claus?

We have finally arrived at the point where my children are excited for Santa and not scared of him. They don't feel the need to hide behind me or under the table whenever they see the big man in red. They actually are excited to go and visit with him and are so looking forward to what he will bring on Christmas morning. My children are 7 and 5 and at such a great age to enjoy all the excitement and magic of Christmas. We are having so much fun this holiday season!

So when I heard one of my son's friends say that someone on the bus told him that there is no Santa Claus, my heart broke. NOOOOOOOOO! Not yet...we are finally at a place where we can enjoy Santa Claus! I'm not ready to start thinking about when my kids won't believe in him anymore. I want years and years more of this magic and excitement for my children. I don't want to worry that one of their friends is going to take this all away from them so soon!

Lucky for me, my kids are still, with out a doubt, believers. Phew! But it got me thinking about what I will say the first time one of them comes to me and asks if there really is a Santa Claus? How will I answer that!

In trying to come up with the "right" answer, I started thinking about how much the story of Santa Claus and of God are closely related. When we are young children, we need to believe in a God who is a white bearded man, lives in the clouds above us, and has angels with white gowns and halos above their heads at His side. An old, wise man who looks down upon us and sees the good that we do and also the mistakes that we make. A God who performs miracles, is all knowing, and powerful enough to be able to give or take away from us depending on our actions.

And when we are young, the story of Santa is so very similar. Like God, Santa Claus is an older, white bearded man who lives in a far away "white like the clouds" land surrounded by his elves to help and serve him. He also can see us at all times and knows when we've been bad or good. And he can use this knowledge to determine if we get a lot or a little for Christmas.

Hmmm.... well, know that I am an adult, I should know that there is no Santa, right? As an adult, I don't believe in a white bearded God sitting up in the clouds watching my every move either. But I do still believe in God - just not the one of my childhood. So then, is there a possibility that I still believe in Santa Claus - but just a different version than when I was young?

Absolutely! know I think I have my answer all ready and prepared for when my children ask if there really is a Santa Claus. Yes, there is! Like God, Santa is not one man, but rather he is a spirit that lives inside each and every person. Every time someone gives from their heart to another, the spirit of Santa Claus is alive and present in our world. Santa Claus and God are a part of each and every person. They are always with us, even if we don't' believe. They are always there, waiting for us to show them to the world. And when we do believe in them and their miraculous power, the gifts we receive in this life are awesome and endless.

So yes, there may come a time when my children do not need to believe in Santa as a man in a red suit with reindeer and a sleigh. But that doesn't mean that they can't believe in Santa Claus anymore. It just means that their idea of him may change. And it will be up to me to show them that Santa Claus IS real - as long as you believe in the power of love and giving to others. If you do, Santa will always be real and living right inside of you. And Christmas will always be a wonderful season full of peace and joy.

Take the time to enjoy this magical season with your children. Try focusing more on being Christmas rather than doing Christmas. And most importantly, remember to just believe.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

One More Sleep

This is it. One more sleep. Just one more sleep until I get my new iPhone! Tomorrow is the day that I'm eligible for an upgrade, and off to the AT&T store I will go. I am very excited, right? Of course! I mean...I think so.

For those of you who haven't heard the drama, I lost my iPhone earlier this year in April. It was one of those mornings were I was rushing around and so not in the moment like I want to be. My family had been involved in a car accident the previous weekend, and we were blessed to come out of it with nothing worse than a totaled car and a broken wrist on my part.

That morning I needed to get my son off to kindergarten, and drop my daughter off with a friend while I went and got x-rays on my wrist. As any mom can imagine, nothing that morning went smoothly, and I was in a mad rush to get to the doctor's office on time. I dropped my son off at school and met my friend in the parking lot to hand off my daughter before racing to the doctor's office. Well, somewhere in that fast and furious exchange, I must have dropped my iPhone off my lap and out of the car. It wasn't until a few hours later, when I went to call my friend to check on my daughter, that I realized that the phone was missing.

I did all the backtracking, phone calling, and praying to try and find the phone, but it never turned up. A few days later, I saw the case to my phone lying in the middle of the road under the traffic light by my son's school. Excitedly, I ran out to get it, but sadly the phone was not in it. It was then that I realized that someone else was now the happy owner of a new iPhone.

My immediate reaction was to go to the AT&T store and buy another one. Surely my insurance would cover it. This wasn't the first cell phone I had lost or broken, so I had been through this before. One phone lost in a taxi in the city, another flushed down a toilet (don't ask - I wish I was kidding!). I knew I'd have to go through the annoyance of reprogramming all my phone numbers, but otherwise no big deal. Or so I thought. Apparently, there is no insurance on an iPhone and if I wanted a new one, it would now be $600 due to the fact that I wasn't yet eligible for an upgrade. $600? For a phone? Really? Wasn't there another solution?

And it was with that thought, that I stopped. I actually stopped myself for a bit - stopped my thinking, stopped my worrying, stopped my obsessing - just stopped. I was just in a car accident. I just lost my phone. I just lost 4 days trying to locate that stupid phone. What was I doing?

I'll tell you what I wasn't doing. I wasn't listening. I wasn't listening to the Universe that was trying to tell me to slow down. Trying to tell me to look at all the blessings in my life and to be so grateful for what I did have rather than
be upset by what I didn't. Even thought the car accident was in no way my fault, it was giving me a message. The message of how of little importance material things are compared to the health and life of those you love. So our car was totaled? My family and I were fine. The most precious possessions I have were unharmed in that accident. I believe the Universe was trying to tell me to slow down and enjoy them more.

But how soon I forgot that message. So what if I was going to be late for the doctor's appointment? It wouldn't have been the end of the world. But I forgot that. Forgot the message of slowing down and being grateful for all I had, and rushed myself and my kids once again. And once again, the Universe sent me a message. A message to stop. Slow down. Enjoy. Be grateful for the abundance of blessings in my life. Take the time to enjoy them no matter what.

Before the Universe felt the need to hit me over the head with a brick, I decided to listen to Its message. I would try my best to slow down, live in the moment, and be grateful for all of my blessings. And to show my commitment, I decided to put off getting a new iPhone for awhile. Even when I learned of a way to purchase a more affordable one, I decided to wait. Silly? Maybe. But for me, it just felt right. I wanted to try not adding one more thing to my life that would make it harder for me to slow down and focus on the moment. See if I really could do it.

Well, it is November and I made it. I wish I could say that I have been able to only live in the present moment since April and simplify and slow down my life at all times, but sadly that has not always been the case. I can say though that I have made great strides towards this goal and I truly feel more grateful, more content, and more at ease every single day. I am amazed by the joy and abundance that has come into my life simply by taking more time to enjoy, be thankful, and truly be present with my family and friends.

A great ending to this blog post would be for me to say that I have realized that my life is so fulfilled and abundant that I now know that I don't want something as silly as an iPhone in my life anymore. Hmmmmm... sorry, but I'm not quite there yet:)
I have learned that I definitely don't NEED one to be happy, but WANTING one...well, that is a whole other story!

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Friday, October 22, 2010


So my wonderful husband and I were blessed with the opportunity tonight to go out and have dinner together - alone - no kids! Ahhhh.... Life is good.

During our dinner together, we had time to talk about some of the things that have been going on in our lives over the past couple of weeks. And because I am truly blessed with a husband who cares for me and how I am feeling, I found out that he was very upset about some unpleasant interactions I had to deal with in the past week. He was not only concerned for me and how I was dealing with the events, but he was also confused about how I was handling them. Or in his eyes, how I was not handling them.

I'm not sure when the change in me occurred, but I am much less verbal and much more active in my approach to changing my world. I'm not interested in making people see my opinion and trying to convince them to make it their own. I'm much more conscience of creating change by my everyday life and how I live it. If someone disagrees with me or finds fault with me, I am actually OK with that. I don't have this intense need to prove I am right and they are wrong. I'd rather just continue to let me be me and let others be who they are. If they learn something from me or can become more positive because of witnessing my attitude (at the right moment of course!) than that is so much more gratifying than thinking I proved them wrong in a shouting match, argument, or debate.

I just don't feel the need as much to defend my opinions. If I believe in something or want to change something, I DO something. I don't waste time "preaching to the choir" or trying to get everyone to see things my way. I have found that the best way to make a change is to DO something about it. Not talk about it, preach about it, argue about it, complain about it, debate about it...but do something about it.

Now don't get me wrong. If I need to, I can take a stance and stand my ground very strongly. And don't even get me started when it comes to my kids. I'll fight for anything for them. But there really is just this huge shift in me as of late that doesn't want to prove that "my thinking is right and yours is wrong." Because the truth of the matter is that some of the things I was convinced were absolute truths five years ago are complete falsehoods to me now. I grow. I change. I see the world with different eyes. And my opinions, my outlook, and my beliefs sometimes change with the tides of my life.

I've always found it funny when people yell at a football coach for being awful or blame a president for all of the country's present woes. Really? Are you strong enough - brave enough - crazy enough to run an entire team; and entire country on your own? Are you telling me without a doubt that you could do better? Until you are in someone else's position completely, you really have no idea what you are talking about.

So, do I have my own opinions and beliefs? Of course I do! Will these opinions and beliefs be the same five years from now? I don't know. But that is the beauty of being a listener and a learner - and not a fighter and an "all knowing" debater. I am willing to grow, and learn from others. I'm not afraid to say "I don't know" and use that to explore further. And I don't need to prove someone wrong in order to feel validated or secure in my own beliefs. I'm a soul living in a human body and I am on this earth to make it a better place for all souls - not just for me.

Maybe this makes sense to you, or maybe it does not. That is OK. It is just the way I feel at this present moment. As I told my husband - my loving partner who was afraid that I was not standing up for myself and that I was being treated unfairly - I just don't want to spend any more energy on being negative. I don't want to waste my time trying to change others by telling them why they are wrong and I am right. I know who I am. I know what I value and what I believe. I choose to focus on the positive. I'm not going to let negative energy bring me down. I don't want to use my time in this world to keep fighting off that negative energy. I'd rather give out as much positive energy as I can. That is my strategy for standing up for myself and fighting back. I don't want to live at that lower negative frequency. It doesn't do me any good to build my strength or power with that kind of energy.

And besides, being positive about everything really annoys the hell out of negative people. What better revenge in this world is there than that!

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Friends are Forever

Seriously. How can I be this lucky? I had friends over tonight that I haven't seen in over a year. One thing led to another and we weren't able to get together lately. But we got together tonight. And you know what? It was like we have never been apart.

Conversation flowed easily and we laughed and talked like we saw each other just yesterday. Our kids played with each other like they have seen each other in class every day. What a great night!

Why? Because these are friends who cared. These are friends who were there when life was tough. These friends have seen me through the worst of times and the best of times. These are friends who have cried with me, rejoiced with me, and have been deep down, stripped down, honest with me. They have lived with me through life's transormations. They have had their experiences in life that bring you so far down that the only place to go is up. They have experienced that the challenges we face in life are the ones that make us grow....that change us into the wonderful beings we are now.

How wonderful it is to have friends that understand that life is crazy and that everyday contact sometimes gets lost. It doesn't mean you don't love them and aren't thinking of them. It just means that you are doing what you talked about for hours on end...being married, having children, building a family, loving life.

The universe gives you people in your life for all the times in your life. But the divine also gives you people that are meant to stay in your life. These are the people who won't leave you no matter what. The people who have learned that having the most impressive house, the finest things, or the the most prestigious job mean nothing. But having the family and friends that will stay with you and support you through anything is what matters most.

One of these friends told me once that my dream was coming. It was just on a local train rather than an express train. I will never forget that. Because I have since gotten off the express train and am very happy to be on the local train. To live life day by day and enjoy all that each day brings.

So thank you to all my dear friends. Thank you for being my treasured friends even if we aren't able to talk every day, every week, every month. Because you know that I, we, are always there for each other...a thought, a prayer, a phone call. Because when you have this kind of connection, there really is nothing that can break it.
I love you. Thank you for all you have done for me and continue to do for me. My hope is to continue to give back to you.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me?

Wow. 41. Crazy. How did that happen??? I don't feel 41, so it doesn't really affect me that much. I'm just happy to have this day to celebrate with my family and friends, and to be thankful for all the wonderful gifts I have been given in my life. I am truly blessed.

So blessed, that at the age of 41 I still was able to spend the day yesterday with my mom and dad. We went shopping for some clothes for me and out to dinner together with my kids. When the wine was poured and the order was taken, my parents ever so wonderfully began to offer up a toast to me. But here is where being 41 and a mom of two children has brought me. I didn't feel that I should be the one getting the toast on my birthday. Even though I am honored to feel their love and their pride in me, on the anniversary of my birth, they are the ones that deserve the toast. For it is largely because of them that I am, who I am, today.

So on my birthday, I want to give that toast to my parents. Only now that I have been blessed with two beautiful children of my own, can I fully appreciate all they have done for me - and in awe, say thank you.

Thank you for choosing to have me. For the extreme pain it took, mom, to get me into this world! For getting up with me in the middle of the night when I was still a baby and needed your constant care. Thank you for feeding me, changing me, and keeping a roof over my head. Thank you for working hard and providing for my every need. Thank you for selling some of your treasured possessions - your wedding gown, class ring - when times were tough and your family was in need. Thank you for giving me sisters and a brother to share with, fight with, grow with, and love.

Thank you for taking the leap to move to a house when the apartment got too small for the five of us. For helping me to get on the bus that first day and know that I was strong enough to face that big school all on my own. Thank you for sacrificing so much to send all five of us to Catholic school for a chance at a better education than the one being provided for in our hometown. Thanks for having family dinners with us every night and giving us the chance to sit together and talk about our day. Thank you, thank you, thank you for listening to the five of us whine, cry, complain, fight and tattle every day - and then still tuck us in, give us kisses, and love us every night.

Thank you for figuring out how to take five kids in a small car anywhere and everywhere. And also for agreeing to bring a friend along for the ride. Thank you for taking us on vacations every summer and not strangling us for saying 100 times "are we there yet?" Thank you for spending everything you didn't have to give us fabulous Christmas's every year - even though it is really the traditions that you gave us that our now most important and dear to our hearts.

Thank you for coming to all my school concerts, plays, fairs, parent nights and shows with a big smile on your face like you would rather be no where else in the world. Thank you for sacrificing your own time to make sure that I had the perfect dress to where, science project, Halloween costume, book report....

Thank you for having the patience to teach me how to brush my teeth, ride a bike, hit a ball, write my name, curl my hair, play the guitar, tie my shoes, read a book, drive a car. And for being so excited when I did.

Thank you for finding a way to pay the medical bills when I was constantly sick as a kid. For rearranging your life to be with me and take care of me at home and in the hospital when I was ill or in need of surgery.

Thank you for making every birthday so special. With a decorated house to wake up to in the morning and a favorite dinner to eat together at night. Thank you for continuing to play the role of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny even when your children were coming home from college to celebrate.

Thank you for encouraging me to reach for the top in high school. To overcome my fears and see that I could do it. Thank you for supporting me to go away to college and then always providing a home to come back to. For making me feel that I could accomplish anything and for being so proud when I did. Thank you for helping me to move 10 times in 10 years and for being there through all of my triumphs and disappointments.

Thank you for my beautiful wedding day. For waiting 28 hours in the waiting room for your grandson to be born. For treating my children like they are God's gift - and for truly believing they are. Thank you for always being only a phone call and a car ride away. And for always saying I love you before saying goodbye.

Thank you for giving up so much to raise my siblings and me. A bigger house, a new car, vacations, dinners out, new clothes, financial security. For sharing one bathroom with five kids for 20+ years. Thank you for the sleepless nights spent worrying how to pay the bills, and for the second and third jobs that would eventually pay them. Thank you for giving everything you had and more so that I could have a wonderful life full of love, family, friends, and treasured memories.

You gave up part of your own life so that I could have mine, and for that I am truly grateful.

For all of these things and for so much more, I send my birthday wishes to you mom and dad. For you deserve the congratulations and good wishes on this day. 41 years ago you started a long, hard, wonderful journey - and I am so very thankful and blessed that you did. My gift to you is to now do the same for my own kids. I can only pray that I do as well as you both did.

I love you with all of my heart.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to School

Wow! We made it! Put a brand new kindergartner and first grader on the bus this morning with no tears, lots of kisses and excitement, and just a little bit of nausea (mine of course). After this wonderful morning, I proceeded to miss both kids terribly and wait the hours until their arrival home. Lindsey came home first, smiling and skipping off of the bus. She LOVED school. Wanted to go right back again. Success!!!! Then I spent more time waiting and missing the other kid terribly until he arrived home. After what seemed like forever, Brandon ran off the bus, all smiles and happy about his day. Loved his teacher, his classroom, and lunch in school. Another success!!! Could it really be that the days of crying, anxiety, and not wanting to go to school were really behind us????? Ummmm....No. I forgot that the first day of school is generally easy. It is in anticipation of the second day that the trouble around here begins!

We had a wonderful time swimming and playing with friends after school. The day was going great. Then it was time to go home and get ready for dinner and bed. And that is when the tears and fears began. My little worrier kindly asked me if he could go back to kindergarten. He did not like going to school until 3:00 and was scared of not knowing all of this first grade stuff. When I explained that he would be bored going back to kindergarten because it would be too easy, he said, "Fine. Then I'll just stay home with you all day." Ah. If it were only that easy.

So, what is a mom to do? The night continued to get progressively worse as the tears started. "I don't want to go to first grade." "It is too long." "Can't I take a week off." "I'm not going to school tomorrow." "I'm scared mommy." "I miss you."

Now, I've learned a thing or two over the past 4 years he has been in school. I did not tell him he had nothing to be afraid of. Instead we talked about how it is scary, and tiring, and hard in the beginning. Just like starting most new things are. But that it will get better, we just have to take it one day at a time.

Unfortunately, no one wants to hear that it will get better. Especially children. They want you to make it better right now! So we talked about what he could do to make going to first grade less scary. After we got passed "not going," he thought planning something special for the end of each day might be nice. That would give him something to look forward to and make the day go by faster. He also liked knowing that he still had time for some play and fun activity at the end of the school day.

OK. Problem solved. Time for bed. Ummm...NO! Tears start all over again along with the saddest look of "Mommy, please make this all better for me." We talk about all of the things he already knows how to do in school - ride the bus, read, go to art, gym, and music, add, make friends.... All of those things he doesn't have to be afraid of because he is already a pro at them. We talk about how his teacher is his "school mommy" and how he can always ask her for help or a hug when he needs one. He suggests that I call his teacher and tell her that he is scared so she can help him. I think that is a wonderful suggestion, so I do. He is happy to hear that his teacher adores him already and says that he is doing great. And also that she has lots of hugs waiting for him tomorrow (yes, can you say AWESOME teacher!). That makes him smile and calms him down enough to try and fall asleep.

But his face still says "Make this better mommy!" And I want to. I want to take away his fear and make it all better right now too! But I am learning that he has to go through it. Lots of other new first graders are going through it too. Same as new middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students, and new teachers. If I don't let him go through it, he won't get through it and come out stronger, more confident and capable of handling his fears the next time. I have to aid him in finding a way to comfort himself and find the determination to work through his fears, and even just his exhaustion with a new full day schedule. But I can't do it for him. I want him to tell me how he feels and talk about ways to make things better. But ultimately, he has to experience it and find his own way. And I guess, I have to find my own way to deal with not being able to absorb his pain and take all unpleasant experiences away from him.

Sounds like I have this all figured out, right? Ummm...No. I neglected to mention one more strategy that helped my little worrier fall asleep tonight. If you're looking for me tomorrow, I'll be at the toy store buying a brand new 'pillow pet' for my first grader who promises to get on the bus tomorrow. Bribery. Yes - I admit it. Bribery. I'm a mom. I'll do whatever it takes!

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mamma Bear

I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point over the last couple of years my kids became people. Little people with their own ideas, opinions and attitudes. People who can talk, read, write, take a shower, make friends, work electronics, play, eat, and do a whole bunch of other things independently now. Granted they are only 5 and 6 years old, but wasn't it just a few years ago that they couldn't eat, change, or even walk by themselves? Now they can actually think for themselves! Well, that is when I actually let them think for themselves.

Lately I have been feeling one of the biggest transitions in taking care of my children since they were born. I can't believe it, but the letting go is already beginning. I thought that wasn't supposed to happen until you drop them off at their college dorm room? But no. They are becoming more and more independent every day. And less and less dependent on mommy for their every need. Each day, the line between what they need me to do for them and what they can do for themselves gets a little less clear to me and I find myself struggling at times to figure it out.

When they were babies and then toddlers, my role as protector was very clear. I was the armor between my babies and the rest of the world. No one was going to harm them with me around. If I didn't like how someone was treating my little ones, then I would swoop them up and pull them right out of the situation. I got to say whom they did and did not play with. It was simply my job to decide what my children ate, what clothes they wore, what toys they received, and who their "friends" where.

But it doesn't completely work that way anymore. All the sudden my children are choosing their friends and the games they want to play. Sure. I am ok with that. I can stand back and watch my kids play with their friends on their own. Until of course, I witness my child being teased or treated unfairly. Then I want to step in like a mother bear and take care of the situation pronto! And here is where I am struggling with that fuzzy line between what my kids should be doing for themselves and what I should be doing for them.

Part of me can listen to another child not want to play with my son or daughter, take his or her toy away, boss him or her, or say something mean. Part of me can listen and wait to hear how my child will handle the situation. Wait and see if she or he has the skills and the strength to take care of it on his or her own. And then discuss it later when we are alone to praise how it was handled or to figure out a better way for the next time.

But then there is the other part of me. The part that wants to get right in there and take care of the situation immediately. Solve the disagreement or end the mean behavior right away. And....I'll admit it... make that child who is hurting mine STOP!!! But unless my child is in physical danger, is that the best decision?

My first year of teaching, I was on playground duty during recess one day. (I taught in lower Manhattan, so by "playground" I mean alley-way.) A few minutes in, I noticed a man walking rather fast and furious towards the children. He traveled through the maze of kids to find the one boy he was looking for. When he found him, he picked him up by his shirt collar and began to yell into his face "If you ever bother my son again, I will find you and hurt you." I couldn't believe it. How could a grown man treat a child this way? As a single, childless, 21 year old, I was horrified. Then I became a mom. And now? I'm not as horrified.

Now don't worry. I'm not going to attack any children at a playground anytime soon, but I definitly understand his anger and his need to protect his child against any enemy - even another young child.

To try and figure all of this out, I have been conducting some experiments over the last few weeks with my own favorite "lab rats". I have been waiting longer and longer before I intervene in thier disagreements with each other or with their friends. I have been letting my free thinking children try and figure it out for themselves before 'super mom' comes to the rescue. Allowing them to stand up for themselves and explain their needs and wishes clearly and effectively. And for the most part, I have been happy with the results. They are learning to solve their own problems. Standing up for themselves and finding solutions to disagreements and behaviors that they don't like. And we have been talking about these events later after friends are gone, and it is amazing what they learn from experiences they handle all by themselves.

Thankfully, I am also finding that they still need mom too! Some problems are just to big for their growing brains to handle yet. And one of the best things I can teach them is to begin to determine for themselves which problems they can handle on their own and which ones need the help of their parents or others whom they can trust to love and support them.

If we want to worry less about our children, and have them worry less, then we need to give them the skills and the strength to solve their own problems and make their own decisions. If they are confident in their abilities to handle situations on their own, then they will have less worries throughout their lives.

But children will also have less worries if they have the support and love of trusted adults. Parents who will always be there watching and waiting to lend a hand or a hug when needed. And a mamma who would be willing to face the biggest and meanest bully in the playground just for them!

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Into the Mind of a Perfectionist

My husband and I went to see Inception last night. No worries. I won't give away the ending. Not sure I could explain it anyway! But the movie's premise about dream and thought control got me to thinking. What if we were to look inside the mind of a worrier or a perfectionist? What would we see.

Well, since my mind is the only one I have ever had the opportunity to look into, I can tell you what I have seen brewing there throughout my life. As in the movie, the mind thinks it can create and control its own reality. We often use our thoughts to try and find ways to control a situation and its outcome. But as we know, often this does not happen. There are just too many external factors going on for us to ever have complete control over any situation.

OK, I write that last statement like it is something I have always known, when in reality I have only begun to grasp it. As a child dealing with perfectionism, I truly thought if I worked hard enough, worried long enough, or thought things through enough, that I could control my life and achieve the outcomes I desired. If I wanted good grades in school, I just had to work harder than expected and I would get them. And I mean "work harder than excepted." Because as a perfectionist, I was already getting excellent grades. But my mind was such that it felt it always needed to be a step ahead to keep those grades up. I often felt that I was one step away from everything crashing down on me. So in order to prevent that, I would do 110% to guarantee that nothing in my present situation would change. Need to do a 5 page paper to get an A? My mind would say to write 6. Need to exercise 3 days a week to stay fit? My mind would say to exercise 5 days. Eight glasses of water a day for health? Better drink 10. 10 books on the summer reading list? Need to read at least 15. And most of all, the trick was to do all of that while still trying to appear "cool" and "care-free" in front of my friends. In my experience with perfectionism, it wasn't about trying to be perfect - but rather trying to maintain what I assumed was the perfect way to be.

Now what about when I knew ahead of time that there was no way for me to control events to produce a positive outcome? Then I often chose not to participate, rather than deal with the fear of failing or making a 'fool' of myself. Competitive sports? No thanks. As a child I would have rather not participated than make a mistake and be looked at as not good enough. Sure, I would participate sometimes when friends would push, but I would hate every minute of it and go over every detail in my head of what I did wrong when the game was over.

Even though I had done well in elementary school, I was very nervous about going to high school. While I wasn't worried about failing, I was worried that I was not going to perform well enough. I was tracked in the honors class and surrounded by smart, popular kids. You would think I would have felt proud of myself, successful, and intelligent. But instead I felt a deep fear of not living up to expectations - my own expectations of who I thought I should be. So with every award, word of praise, or A+ I got, I became more anxious about having to maintain this image of myself. More fearful that at any minute the world would see that I was not this smart, responsible girl they thought they knew, but the inadequate one that my mind viewed me to be.

In writing this, I am hoping to give you a look into the possible thoughts of the perfectionists and worriers in your own lives. I often go back to this younger version of myself (thank God I have grown so much over the years!)and look to see how someone could have helped her. Like I said, it wasn't anyone else's expectations I was trying to live up to, just ones that I created for myself. It wasn't until I was an adult and had to go through some hard times in which I had absolutely no control over what was to happen, that I learned to give up control. To see that I never really had it anyway.

Maybe my younger self could have been shown how to laugh at herself and not take herself so seriously all the time. Maybe if her friends or teachers shared their own failures or imperfections more, she would have realized that being perfect is non - existent and not something to strive for. I wonder if the schools she went to focused on the beauty of individual differences and strengths rather than on grades and class ranks, she would have learned to be more of an individual and discover her own talents and interests earlier.

Or maybe she was just born this way and one of her paths in life was to discover how to accept and love herself for the person she is and to learn to trust in a power higher than her and to just let go. Yes, it was often a hard and long road to get to where I am now, and I still have further to go in my journey. But the path has brought me to the point in my life where I am now, and I am blessed and happy for that. And if my experiences can help my children and others learn how to overcome their anxieties, than every one of them has been a gift.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Wisdom of Our Elders

Visiting my grandmother in the nursing home always stirs up a mix of feelings for me. I have begun to get used to the fact that she doesn't remember who I am most of the time, and that she definitely has no idea who my kids are. I have also come to accept that with her physical ailments and her dementia, this is the best place for her to be. I accept it even if it makes me sad to see her there. It is so very hard to see someone who was once so vibrant and active - a mother of 7 children and 2 foster children! - now wear an ankle monitor, sit in a wheelchair, and need 24 hour care. We used to spend time together talking, shopping, traveling, going to the beach. She was always energetic and in love with life. She had a tremendous love for animals and people and she could talk to anyone - from the cashier at the local supermarket to the friends I would bring to her house on the Cape. Now much of what she says is jumbled with criss-crossed memories of the many different events and times of her life. But even though her mind and her body are failing her in so many ways, I am still touched by her spirit every time I go and see her.

My grandma has always been someone I looked up to as being positive and full of love and faith. Being around her, I still get that feeling. The feeling that life is beautiful and is meant to be enjoyed. When I arrived at the nursing home today, she was sitting outside in her wheelchair beside my father. She had her eyes closed, her head up, and was soaking in the sun. A big smile came over her face as she took a deep breath and inhaled the fresh, warm air. Then she just sighed a happy "mmmmm" and clasped her hands in prayer. Sitting in her wheelchair in the late morning sun, she looked like the happiest person in the world. And at that moment, she just may have been.

Later in our visit, my kids discovered a butterfly and proceeded to go about catching it. This little activity caused quite a bit of noise as they knocked into benches and bushes outside and kept setting off the automatic doors to open and close. Not wanting them to disturb anyone (or break anything or anyone!), I asked them to settle down and come talk to their great-grandma. But my grandma wouldn't have it. "Let them get that butterfly," she said. "That is what kids do." Then she again closed her eyes, and got a big smile on her face and said, "And please let them keep laughing." Even though she could not remember who these children were in relation to her, they were still children. And they were children who were bringing her such joy just by being kids. Being in the moment. Laughing, enjoying the day, and not having a care in the world.

Happiness in the present moment. The greatest gift there is because the present moment is all we really have anyway. And what a treasure to be happy in it! Today, my grandmother reminded me of this. She may not have her memories of the past and no sense of the future, but she still has the present moment. And she still can enjoy that. Maybe more so than the rest of us, because it is not cluttered with regrets of the past and worries about the future.

The next time I find myself in the past or future of my hurried mind, I am going to try and remember my grandmother's smile from today as she felt the sun and listened to the kids' laughter. And I am going to use that image to remember to appreciate the moment. The beauty around me. The love of my kids. My health. My family and friends. The many blessings in my life. And then I am going to take in my own deep breath, soak it all in, and thankfully clasp my hands in prayer.

Thank you grandma. I love you.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Moving Days

Change is hard. It is hard for adults and it is hard for children. But change can also be a good thing. It can sometimes be very hard to see the good in it when you are going through it. But after you experience enough of it in your life, you start to learn that it is inevitable and that it can often lead to something even better.

Moving is a huge change. A huge change and a huge stress for a family. And not only for the family that is moving, but for the families that are left behind. Since my family is the one experiencing the loss of two close family friends moving right now, that is the one I am focused on.

Luckily we treasure the friends that are moving right now and when we say "good-bye" it is not really a final one. We will still see them. We will still be close friends. It is just the dynamics of our friendship is changing. Meeting at the coffee shop for a cafe mocha can't just be spontaneous anymore, it will need to be more planned. Having their kids over to play for the afternoon can't just be a drive by request, but now needs to be scheduled a little bit ahead. Popping over for a glass of wine may now need to be placed on the calendar ahead of time. Working or volunteering together may not be quite as easy. Ugh. Just writing this and thinking of it this way brings me down. And it is surely not the way I want to present it to my kids. Is there a more positive way to look at this for my myself and my family?

OK. Let's turn this thinking around. We have another place to visit now when we get tired of doing the same old thing around here. And now when we visit, it is not for just an hour here or there between activities, but a good period of time where it is just us and them. No interruptions, just time to chat and play. Kids...can you say, sleepovers!!!! How fun is that. Here is another word for you...surprises! I absolutely love getting in the car, destination unknown for the kids, and surprising them with a day spent with good friends. Mini, affordable "vacations" in a new town! New things to do! Let's explore their town for the day. Their ice cream stands, playgrounds, swimming, parks, zoos, fairs. Different things to talk about! Who doesn't love some good gossip about the new neighbors or what is going on in someone else's schools??? And then of course, there is email, facebook, IM, skype, media messaging, texting, cell phones. We could be more in touch now living further away than we were living in the same town!

Ahhhh...that sounds better to me. More comforting, exciting, and manageable. And more of the way I want my kids to see it. Truth be told, I am happy for my friends. There moves are going to make their lives easier. Their families closer. Their time freer. I love them enough to know that this is what is right for them right now. I would rather see them content and at peace further away, than stressed and maxed out close by.

Selfishly though, I am still sad. My kids will be sad to lose the everyday closeness of their neighborhood friends, their hometown friends. But I am hoping to show them what friendship truly is with these moves. It is easy to be friends with someone you see everyday. Someone who is so tangled up in your immediate world. But the rewards for putting the work into keeping friendships with those who are further away are great. Lifelong friends are amazing friends no matter how close or far away from you they are. They are worth the effort. And in the case of true friends, love makes the effort not really that hard at all.

McCuskers and Panettas we will miss you terribly. May your moves be the beginning of new and wonderful journeys. May you make many new friends and feel comfort and joy in your new homes. May your kids love their new homes, schools, friendships and activities. And may you have no time to think about what you have left behind, because we will remain right beside you every step of the way! We love you and look forward to your "hello" parties in your new homes.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Friday, June 25, 2010

Play Ball!

Brandon's last baseball game for the season is tomorrow. I really feel that he has been blessed with great coaches. They really have been helping the kids to learn the game. Every practice and every game is about learning to hit, field, play different positions, and be a team player. The kids are taught to root for each other and to appreciate the successes of their teammates as well as the members of the opposing team. Most importantly, they are encouraged to have fun. And isn't that they way it should be for a team of six and seven year old boys?

Maybe. But that is not always the case. I have heard stories from other parents of kids Brandon's age, where the team is already more about winning and not so much about learning and loving the game. On those teams, only the best players are allowed to try playing any of the bases or infield positions. Kids are yelled at during games for making mistakes instead of being taught what the play should have been. And practices are all scrimmages instead of opportunities to learn and practice new skills.

Competition and the emphasis on winning seems to be coming into our kids lives earlier and earlier. I don't remember playing competitive organized sports until I was at least 8 or 9. Now it seems that if you don't start your kids playing soccer, baseball, basketball, or another sport by age 3, they will be left behind everyone else later on. 3? Really? Not only is the pressure to start your kids earlier felt by many parents, but also the pressure to have your child choose one sport to focus on at an early age. Sports aren't just one season anymore. Most sports can play year round. Fall soccer, indoor soccer, spring soccer, travel soccer, soccer camp. Spring baseball, fall ball, batting clinics, baseball camps. Try having your child participate in more than one sport a season! The schedule can be overwhelming!

Brandon played soccer at age 3 and started baseball at age 5. But like I said, we have been very lucky that he has had wonderful coaches who have focused on teaching and building his skills rather then on winning a game. But as he is getting older, I know that the focus is going to switch from playing to learn to playing to win. And I can't help but wonder what kind of anxieties that will bring for both my son and for me!

Looking back at my childhood and how I dealt with competition, I know that I couldn't stand it! I avoided it as much as possible. From team sports to friendly board games, I was not one who liked to compete. But was it because of my own anxieties or because of the external pressure to win and be the best? For me, I would have to say it was my own worries about making mistakes. I don't think it would have mattered if my softball coach focused on building every member's self-esteem and having fun, or if she emphasized winning as the main goal. My pressure came from within. I didn't want to make a mistake in front of everyone. I was afraid to blow the game for my teammates. No external pressure needed. I had plenty of my own to go around! Even when people praised me for a great hit, an award won, or an A+ report card, that didn't make me more confident. If anything it made me more worried about being as successful the next time. My perfectionism made me feel as if I had such a high standard to always live up to.

I guess my own experiences confuse me on what to believe in regards to competition in my children's lives. How much competition is good and how much is too much? How do I teach them to handle the wins and the losses? At what age is competition more helpful than harmful? We have all seen the shift for our kids in schools and activities where now everyone is a winner. Everyone in field day gets an award. No one gets out in musical chairs. When you are left without a chair, you get a treat instead. All students get a prize after the read-a-thon is done, even those who didn't read. No score is kept at a rookie baseball game. Everyone is a winner. Well, that is what the adults think anyway. But in reality, the kids all determine for themselves who was the fastest runner at field day, who got the last chair left in musical chairs, and which team scored the most runs and won the baseball game. Kind of like putting kids into reading groups labeled blue jays and red robins. Every kid always knew which group was the most advanced.

So which is better? Making everyone a winner so no one's feelings are hurt or teaching kids that there will be competitions in which there are winners and losers throughout their lives? Maybe the answer is a little bit of both. Personally, I don't think a child at age 6 needs to be pressured to win a game they are just learning how to play. But from experience, I know that many of those kids will place the pressure on themselves anyway.

Then maybe the real question is how do we help our kids deal with competition. With winning sometimes and losing other times. And with not being so hard on themselves that it deters them to want to compete in the first place. For my answer, I try and look back at what would have helped me as a kid to be less anxious about competing and more motivated to just do my best and have fun. Maybe if I was praised more for my efforts rather than the end result, I would have wanted to keep up my efforts without feeling that the end result was what I had to always be successful at? I went to competitive catholic schools, and the emphasis was always on the grade. We were even ranked on our report card and given a number as to where we fell in comparison to all of our classmates. I was a good student, so I achieved many perfect report cards, test scores, and grades. My teachers and parents were very proud of me and never needed to push me or pressure me to do well, but the praise was always for the grade. The hard work put into those grades was not always recognized. I wonder if more emphasis were to be put on the effort - the work involved in getting the A, the home run, or the 9.9 on beam - children would take more pride in the work they put into winning rather than the win itself. Then they would feel successful and confident in their abilities whether they win or lose.

Once again, it comes down to balance. While I want my kids to enjoy what they do and learn and have fun, I also want them to learn to deal with competition in all areas of their lives. I don't want them to run away from it in fear of not being perfect, but embrace the challenge, put their best efforts into it, and then let go of the outcome knowing that they did everything they could at that moment. I want them to always feel proud of themselves and confident in their abilities when they do their best.

Who knows? Maybe if they learn to appreciate the journey rather than the destination, they can teach me how to enjoy a game of pictionary or balderdash every now and then!

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Friday, June 18, 2010

She's Gone

So many emotions. Not sure where to start. We put Abby to sleep tonight. She is gone. Gone from our world, our lives, our home, our family. Gone forever. Or is she? I was there. I held her head in my hands and looked in her eyes as she lay on a blanket on the floor at the vet's office. I watched as the vet injected her front leg with a drug that would sedate her and make her sleepy. I looked into her eyes and told her that she was my first baby, that I loved her, and that it was OK for her to go and to enjoy a new life with those who have gone before her. I felt her eyes gaze trustingly into mine until she could no longer hold her head up and I lay her down to sleep. To sleep in peace eternally in the world that was awaiting her. I stayed in the room with my sleeping baby until Rob and I gave her enough tears. Enough hugs and caresses to send her off into her new life and away from ours. The vet did a last check to make sure she was gone. But was she?

I watched her go, but yet I still feel her with me. Isn't she at the foot of the bed? Isn't she downstairs pacing around waiting for someone to feed her and take her out for a walk? Isn't she taking a nap in the sun that is streaming through the dining room window?

But it is more than just the memories making me feel that she is still here. She is in my heart. In the stories Rob and I have been sharing about her all night. In the clear visions I see of her swimming, cuddling, and licking my face. And she is in heaven. In the heaven we came home and told our children she was in. The one where she is running, playing, jumping and being cared for by their Nauna Mary Jane. Their Nauna who was Abby's first owner and who is so happy to be receiving this treasured gift back again.

I truly feel blessed to have been able to hold Abby and be with her to take her from this world to the next. I know in my heart that she is in a better place, free from pain and suffering. How fortunate am I that I got to be the one that she trusted completely to support her while she journeyed from her earthly body to her spiritual, eternal self.

So why then am I so sad? Why have the tears been flowing all night for Rob and I? Why are my children burying their heads in their pillows and crying because Abby has died? If she is in a better place, why are we so worried and upset about it? Shouldn't we just be happy for her?

Obviously, my children can not comprehend what has happened. They just know that a member of their family is gone. And unfortunately having had experienced the death of a loved one, they know she is not coming back. But what about me? I know that she is gone from this earth, but not really "gone". Just home. Heaven. But what is heaven? Is it really a place "up there" with golden gates and a loving man in a white beard? Or is it something inside of us already that we can only achieve through death of this human life and birth into something eternal? I can accept all that on a day to day basis, but when I am watching someone who is a part of me die, I would rather believe in a heaven full of angels, fluffy white clouds, and all of the pleasures that one could possibly imagine rather than just a different energy level or universal being.

So while I found myself feeling blessed for having Abby in my life for 11+ years and for having the opportunity to not only say goodbye to her but to be with her in her journey from this earth to what lies ahead, I find myself worrying about what does await her on the other side. And worrying about where to tell my children she has gone, when I am not sure how to describe it myself.

Well, nothing motivates you to make a decision quicker than having your child ask you a direct question. Both my children asked tonight if Abby was in heaven, how she got there, and who was taking care of her while she was there. And when those questions came at me broken up through tearful and scared voices, I knew what to do. I told them about a heaven where dogs find their new heavenly bodies and run free and energetically as if they were puppies again. A heaven where dogs are taken care of by loved ones who are already there and where they are given everything they could desire and more. A heaven where they are loved unconditionally and where they become angels who visit the earth to watch over us and keep a special place in our hearts forever.

Tonight I feel as if I don't have to know everything. I don't have to be enlightened or spiritual enough to know the meaning of this life or the next. If a heaven with acres of beautiful pastures and doggie cloud beds makes my children and I feel better, then that is what heaven will be tonight. After all, any belief we may have about heaven or what lies hereafter all is centered on love and peace. If Abby is full of love and at peace tonight, then whatever and wherever that heaven is, is where I want her to be.

Be at peace Abby. Be free of pain. Run with the breeze on your back and the sun on your face. Savor each and every meaty bone you find. Enjoy the love and the affection of all the children and animal lovers that abound in heaven. Find a fluffy white cloud to lay upon to rest. And know that you were and are truly loved and will remain forever in our hearts and minds. I love you baby.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Black or White

Today I had a little reminder lesson on something I thought I already knew. Actually a few 'somethings' I already knew, but needed a refresher course on. The topic of today's lesson? "Nothing is ever black or white."

My kids were invited to the Maritime Aquarium today to be part of a commercial the center was shooting for their new Meerkat exhibit. I found out about it last week and decided to keep it a surprise until this morning when the kids woke up. Brandon has been obsessed with sea animals since he was two years old. If he could live in an aquarium he would. Lindsey absolutely loves posing for the camera, so I figured it would be the perfect day for both of them. And it was. Just not in the way I imagined.

As we were getting ready, I told the kids that they had been invited by The Maritime Aquarium to be their special guests for the day. I explained that the director at the aquarium had heard about how much they love sea animals and how kind they are to animals, and he wanted them to have this very special day to celebrate the end of the school year. Thinking that Brandon would rather get shots at the doctor's office than be the center of attention in a big place with people he doesn't know, I waited until we were almost there to mention that there "may" be people taking pictures of them having so much fun on their special day. Figured we take the day moment by moment and only deal with worries as they came up. Well, it was at this moment that my lesson for the day began.

First I hear, "I don't want anyone taking pictures of me. I just want to see the animals!" Then from the other side of the car, "Oh they can take pictures of me mama! I would love to show them how much I love the meerkats!" Typical responses considering the personalities of my two kids, right? Nope. The 'no pictures' plea came from my attention craving daughter. And the excitement for trying something new response? From my attention avoiding son. Just when I thought I had them figured out, they throw this at me. Shades of gray.

We arrive at the aquarium to the publicity director holding a large sign saying "Meerkat Extras" on it. Lindsey loves talking to new people, so she leads us over to the man. "I'm here as your special guest and I love sea animals," says MY SON. And Lindsey? Hides behind me and doesn't want to say hello. Right about now I am thinking I am in some parallel universe like in LOST. I now don't know what to expect from this day.

A friendly woman has me sign model release forms for Brandon and Lindsey and then we sit down to wait for the director. While waiting, Brandon decides to draw a picture of some sea animals and then asks if he can go over and give it to the nice lady who signed us in. That's it. Who is this child and where did my son go????

The director comes in to meet the children one by one and asks them to tell him their names. When he comes up to Lindsey, she comes up close to me, whispers her name, and buries her head in her hands. He moves over to Brandon. At this point, I can't wait to see what this boy in Brandon's body is going to do. "I'm Brandon and I love sea animals. I really love this aquarium." he says confidently.

After that greeting, Brandon is one of the six children chosen to go with the director to be in the central part of the commercial. When he is asked to get up, go with a man he doesn't know, five other kids he doesn't know, to an exhibit he has never been in before, he says, "Bye mom!"

I spend the next two hours watching my son smile at the meerkats for the camera, take direction from the director, and be the center of attention under bright lights in a room full of people he doesn't know. And Lindsey? The director keeps trying to put her in some of the shots, but she just wants to hang with mommy and doesn't want to be in too many of the scenes. Really? My daughter? The girl who will talk to anyone. The one who will dance and sing for any camera on command? My mind was on process overload. What a day!

Nothing is ever black and white. That includes people. I learned today that I can't put my kids in nice neat little boxes with clear cut labels. If I could, it would be much easier for me to understand them and plan accordingly! But it just doesn't work that way. Brandon is not always going to be the worrier, the anxious one. Lindsey isn't always going to be the outgoing, free spirited, confident one. And I will do them a great disservice in life if I try to label them as such. Each new day and event needs to be approached with an open mind. I can't assume I will know how they are going to behave in every situation. I have to really be in the moment and let them show me. I have to continue to let Brandon experience new things and not stay away from those that I think he will not respond well too. He obviously may surprise me! I have to be sensitive to the fact that Lindsey may not always feel self confident and outgoing and adjust for her needs at the time.

I was reminded today to approach each day, each moment with my kids with a clear mind and an open heart. Let go of the expectations of how I think they may behave or of how I think things will be and just let them be. Let what happens, happen. Prepare for situations that may arise, but then let go of the outcome. Don't over plan and and try to control the situation. Give them the opportunity to express their true selves without having to fit into any preconceived perceptions of who they are. Allow them to grow and discover themselves for themselves. They don't need me to tell them who they are. They need the support, love, and freedom to figure that out for themselves.

Nothing and no one is ever black or white.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Saying Goodbye

What would you do for someone you loved if you knew the exact moment when they were going to die? Would you take them to visit all of their favorite places? Would you make all of their favorite foods for them to eat? Would you arrange for family and friends to come and say their goodbye's? Would you spend every moment with them until that last one? Would you explain it to your children before or after that someone was gone?

Now what would you do if that someone you loved was your dog?

My husband and I were sitting on our porch a few nights ago enjoying the beautiful night sky. Not wanting us to become lonely, my daughter came out to join us. Soon after, my son came out to see what he was missing. "The whole family is here!" I said. "No, silly mommy," said Lindsey. "Abby isn't here."

Abby is our 14 1/2 year old black lab. She was our first baby. A "practice child" some people might say. We met Abby after returning from our honeymoon in Hawaii. She was a gift to Rob's mom from his brother. She was three years old at the time, and still very much a puppy. I wish I could say it was love at first sight, but honestly, I could not stand her! I think dogs know when someone is not too fond of them, and they do everything they can to turn you around to being their friend. Abby loved to jump on me, lick me, and eat my food. At 80 pounds, she also wanted to be my personal lap dog. She really had no sense of personal space and simply would not leave me alone. (You see why dogs are often called 'practice children?')

So when we had just moved into our brand new townhouse and Rob asked if we could bring Abby with us, I have to say I was less than thrilled. Unlike Rob, I had never had a dog growing up. My mom said feeding and cleaning up after five kids was quite enough for her! But Rob had fallen in love with Abby from their first meeting. His mom was now too sick and weak to care for Abby anymore, and if we didn't take her - well, I won't tell you all the horrible things that my husband told me might happen to her. He really can be persuasive when he wants to be! The deal was that we would give it three months. If I didn't want the dog to stay with us by the end of that time, we would find her a new home.

Well, of course after three months I was in love. Not only was Abby living in our house, but she was sleeping in our bed and had taken residence in my heart. I couldn't stand leaving her when we went away and would call daily to check on her. We went on long walks together and I took her swimming in the lake. She received her own Christmas stocking filled with wrapped gifts, and more hugs and kisses than a dog could ever desire.

When Brandon was born, I swore Abby would never be ignored just because there was a new baby in the house. Of course this became impossible, especially after Lindsey also blessed our lives, and Abby ended up taking a back seat especially in those early baby years. But she was OK with it and as long as she had her place at the foot of our bed and food in her bowl, she was very happy. The kids soon became old enough to play with her, pet her, and even take her for walks. They have never known life without her and to them she is not a pet, but a member of the family.

Abby no longer sleeps at the foot of our bed. She can't jump high enough anymore to get on the mattress. She can't go swimming or on long walks anymore, as the arthritis in her hips has made her weak. Over the past six months, we have seen her tail wag less and less and it is quite painful for her to lie down. She falls a lot and has frequent accidents in the house. The kids have noticed that Abby is getting worse and Brandon has started to say that it makes him sad to see Abby hurting. It is time.

Many people said we would "just know" when it was time to put our dog down. I remember people saying I would also "just know" when it was time to get married and when it was time to have a baby. But "just knowing" has never really worked for me. I've always just worried about things and thought about things until I had to make a decision. Now I am at the point in my life where I am trying not to worry so much anymore. So I couldn't use that old crutch to help make this very difficult decision. Instead, I had to look at the facts, sit with it, pray on it, and then make the best decision I could based on the information I have at this time. Does that mean I am not worried about it? Of course not. But I am doing what I can to be grateful for the great gift I have been given - the many wonderful years with a treasured friend.

How will my kids handle this? How will my husband? How will I? Yep, I must admit I worry about that. Do we tell the kids before or after? What do we tell them? I suppose I will take all I have learned and take it one moment at a time. Approach the subject with gratitude for having had Abby for so many years and to find joy and comfort in our memories. I don't "have to" put Abby down. I "get to" say goodbye to her, hold her, hug her, and guide her lovingly on to what comes next for her spirit, her energy. I will let myself be sad, let my husband be sad, let my kids be sad. Embrace those feelings and then let them go when it is time. I won't try to predict how we are all going to handle it or try to control it. I will just try and accept it and take it moment by moment, emotion by emotion. Let my children show me what they need before reacting to feelings they might not be having. Thoughts they may not be thinking. We will breathe.

It is very strange to know the exact moment that you will say goodbye to someone you love. But if we can accept it with grace and gratitude, it may be a moment of great love and peace.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Thursday, June 3, 2010

No HoeDown for Me!

I opened one eye this morning and waited for it. Opened the other eye, jumped out of bed and waited for it. Brushed my teeth, combed my hair and waited for it. Went to the top of the stairs, called my son up to get dressed for school and then it came.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOO! I am not going to school today. I don't want to go. I'm too scared!"
Here we go, I thought. Brandon had been saying since Monday that he was absolutely not going to go to school on Thursday because he did not want to be in the Hoedown. He was too scared to get up on stage with the other kindergarten students and sing for the parents. I'd been helping him to think of other more pleasant events during the week and distracting him to make him feel better, but now it was showtime. Time to perform - him at the 'hoedown' and me at 'what was about to go down' to get him on the bus.

As Brandon began to scream and cry and slam the door - oh wait. It wasn't Brandon who slammed the door. That would be my husband who heard what was about to take place and quickly snuck out the door to go to work. I really can't blame him. At that moment I really wished I had a job outside of the home that I could escape to as well. (Or that it was acceptable to have a glass of wine at 7 in the morning!)

I first tried talking to him about why he was afraid. This did not work at all. He didn't care why. He just knew that he was scared and the solution for him was simply not to go. Now of course, at this point I could have saved myself and him a lot of aggravation and tears and just let him stay home. I mean it was just a kindergarten performance, not high school graduation. But I know my son, and I know that if I don't help him to face his fears, he will never get over them. Every small step he takes in overcoming an anxiety makes it that much easier the next time.

I realized that I was not going to be able to get him to change his feelings - he was scared and that was not going to go away. So instead I focused on how he could best handle that fear and get himself to face it by going to school. We started by focusing on the task at the moment. "Brandon, you don't need to go to school yet. I just need you to get dressed."... "Let's have breakfast." ..."Brush your teeth." And when he started to get upset between tasks, we went back to breathing deep and focusing on what we were doing right then.

I chose not to talk with him about being scared anymore, because I realized that it was just feeding the fear. I validated his fear and gave him lots of hugs and kisses, but I did not try to get him to not be afraid. Talking about it was making him more upset and irrational. Sticking with our routine as best as we could calmed him down.

Then it was time to pack up to go to the bus stop - definitely the hardest part. I have had to make the choice before of whether to send him crying on the bus or drive him to school. Not easy, but again the change in routine from bus to car usually does nothing for his anxiety but prolong it.

Brandon loves sea animals and has a manatee stuffed animal that is very special to him. I had him get the manatee and he and I asked the manatee to hold all of Brandon's fears about today in his heart and mind so that Brandon could get on the bus and go to school with no worries. I told Brandon that he could take the manatee to school with him to give him strength and to keep all his yucky feelings for him. Somehow this worked and Brandon got on the bus with only a little hesitation. After the bus left, I sat at the top of the driveway, closed my eyes, and prayed. I sent positive thoughts, courage, and peace to Brandon and then waited to see what would happen at the Hoedown.

I saw Brandon's class march on stage with their happy little chick hats (and at that moment understood why Brandon kept telling me he didn't want to wear the hat - kind of looked like a pilgrim woman's hat that had been attacked by a flock of birds!). Then my fear set in when I did not see Brandon up on stage. Friends sitting nearby didn't seem him either. I had visions of him having a nervous breakdown in the nurse's office. But then my neighbor spotted him. He had put his chick hat so far down in front that you couldn't see his face! A few seconds later he picked up his head and looked around. I gave him a big wave and smile and he smiled and waved back - and then proceeded to sing and act with the rest of his class. Ahhhhhhh...he did it!

On our way home from school I asked him if he was glad that he went today. He said yes and that he was proud of himself for doing a good job. It was really only just a little scary he said. So I suggested that next year's performance in first grade would now be a breeze for him. To which he replied, "I'm not going to first grade mom. It is just going to be too long of a day. I want to stay with you." Oh well, one step, one day at a time I guess. At least it is now after 5pm. Perfectly acceptable to have that glass of wine now!

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Monday, May 31, 2010


One night a few years ago in a beautiful yoga studio in Connecticut, I took my first private yoga class with one of my favorite instructors. During class, she stopped me and said, "Angela, you have a lovely yoga practice, but you don't know how to breathe."

Don't know how to breathe? How had I gotten through 37+ years of life without knowing how to breathe? Air in, air out. Not so hard, right? But then my yoga mentor began teaching me how to breathe, and I realized - she was right.

Not knowing how to breathe correctly probably started for me as a young child. I had constant ear infections and colds and often couldn't breathe out of my nose. My doctor said I was a "mouth breather". Tubes, medication, and getting older helped me to begin breathing out of my nose, but I had another problem. Not only was I a mouth breather, but I was also a chest breather. (I know ... you may be saying "So? Mouth, chest, lungs - aren't you supposed to use these to breathe?") Then, like many teenagers, I wore my designer jeans that were tightly fitted around the waist. Which means a lot of holding in of the stomach and not much room for the diaphragm to expand.

As a teacher, I can remember feeling by the end of the day as if I had not breathed at all. I was often so stressed and in a rush to fit everything in that my stomach was clenched and my shoulders and chest were tight. Not great for breathing it turns out. Also not great for one's health. And forget about breathing correctly as a mom! Who has time for that?

So it wasn't until my yoga instructor began showing me how to breathe, that I realized how truly important it was. Concentrating on the breathe and breathing fully and correctly can literally change many aspects of your life. Your anxiety level can go down, you can focus more on the moment, you can physically and mentally accomplish more, and your health can greatly improve.

Relaxed, diaphragmatic breathing where we are breathing in and out of our noses and from our belly has a "positive effect on the cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, and muscular systems, and has a general effect on sleep, memory, energy levels, and concentration."(from Yoga Calm for Children)

How can we teach this type of breathing to our children, and ourselves? You can have your child lie on his back, stand, or sit in a chair with his hands on his belly. Have him take a deep breath through his nose very slowly to a count of three. Your child should feel (and you should see) his belly go up. Then, have him exhale through his nose to a count of three. He should feel his belly go down. As he continues to breathe, his belly will go up and down like the waves of the ocean. If you see his shoulders rise up while breathing, this is a sign that he is breathing through the upper chest and not the abdomen. Your child can practice this breathing in a relaxed setting, and then be taught to use it whenever he is anxious.

Once I started "belly breathing" rather then "chest breathing" many of my gastrointestinal problems went away. And I use this breathing to relax, focus, fall asleep, and go further when exercising. And when my kids breath this way it relaxes them and centers them so that they can calm themselves and make better decisions on how to handle problems and anxious situations.

So stop sucking in that belly and start breathing into it instead! Fill it up like a balloon and then deflate it. Make your breath like the ocean and dwell in the peace it creates.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Silly Bandz

OK. Let's have a show of hands here. Who else went out and bought silly bandz for their kids because "everyone has them mom!"? Because really, why else would I spend five dollars on 12 rubber bands that are going to get broken, lost, or discarded in a matter of days? Was it because they came in different colors? Because of the cool shapes? Because my kids would have hours of fun with them? NO - I admit it - it was because I didn't want my kids to feel left out. I knew having the silly bandz to show off to their friends would make them feel happy and 'cool' so I bought them. As much as they want to fit in, I want them to fit in too.

But I did stare at the silly bandz display in the store for awhile deciding what to do. I actually left the store empty handed the first time. But then I saw more and more kids with them over the next few days, and heard more and more 'please moms' from my kids so I decided to surprise them and go back and get them. Where they thrilled? Of course. For a few days. But now as predicted, many are lost, others broke in half, and the rest are scattered around their rooms. They come out again when a friend comes over wearing them, but otherwise they sit untouched.

And that is what I thought about as I stood staring at the silly bandz in the store. Was getting these for my kids because everyone else had them really a great lesson for my kids? I want them to learn to be individuals, to do their own thing and be proud of it. To be their own persons, stand up for themselves and not care what others think. I also want them to learn that happiness comes from within and that money and possessions won't bring you happiness. Material things might make people want to be your friend, but they definitely don't bring true friends into your lives.

So then why did I buy the silly bandz? Probably because they were only $5 and for $5 I could make my kids happy even if only for a little bit! But if it starts with $5 silly bandz, where will it go from there? What about when my daughter wants the brand new American Girl doll because everyone at school has it? Or when my son wants the DSi in addition to his DS because the kids at school all have the new one. Cell phone? Ugg boots? Lucky Jeans? A car? Obviously there is a huge difference between getting my children silly bandz and getting them a cell phone, but is the message any different if the reason for getting them is because everyone else is doing it?

Growing up, I remember my own obsessions with what was 'in' at different moments. Cabbage Patch dolls that parents were getting into fights over. Jordache jeans (with the white stitching). Boom boxes. Leather bomber jackets. I remember feeling that I HAD to have these or I would be left out. Some I got, some I didn't. But none of them made me very happy for very long. Although I wouldn't have admitted that back then!

In trying to figure it all out, I often look to a best friend who has two girls ages 13 and 11. They moved a few years ago to another town in their state because it had a better school system. While they are happy with the schools, they didn't count on the extra peer pressure that was going to be involved with moving to a more affluent town. Almost all of her girls' friends have cell phones and have had them since they were 9 or younger. The clothes are designer labels, and the birthday parties sometimes involve limos and trips to the city. The easiest thing for her to do would be to let her girls have a cell phone, or have them shop only where everyone else does. But she chooses not to do that and makes no apologies for it. She sets the rules for her girls and sticks with it. Do they give her problems? Sometimes - but they also have learned to make friends based on interests and similarities rather than by popularity. They are amazing at sports and this confidence in their abilities makes them content in being their own person and letting their friends see who they truly are. Her oldest still loves Coach handbags and clothes from Abercrombie, but she has also learned that she better really want them because she will be spending her own money to buy them or waiting to get them as gifts. And when she wanted to start wearing make-up like everyone else, my friend waited until what she felt was an appropriate age and took her to get a make-up lesson and help her with her first purchase. Both girls have lots of friends and have learned to deal with any razzing they get about not having the latest gadget or fashion accessory. And they also have chosen to separate themselves from some former friends and classmates whom they feel are spoiled and no fun to be around. They are happy, respectful, friendly, confident, well adjusted kids and it has a lot to do with their mom setting limits and rules and sticking to them.

So when the next silly bandz like craze comes out will I go running to the stores? I don't know - I guess I'll have to make that decision then. I do know that I recently lost my iPhone (an adult version of having to have what everyone else does?!?!?). At first, I was going to run out and buy another one no matter what the cost (I truly did love that phone!). And then I thought about it a bit. Did I really NEED to have it? Yes it was fun and came in very handy at times, but I did live for almost 40years without one. So I decided to wait. I'm back to my phone that is just a phone and I am surviving. And I showed my kids that even moms can't always have what they want even when everyone else has one. Or that when we lose something, we can't necessarily just replace it - we need to be more careful with our things. They see that my friends are still my friends and that I can laugh at myself when these friend tease me for having a boring phone!

On the other hand, don't judge me if you see me walking around with the new version of the iPhone coming out later this summer. Hey, I'm only human!

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Short Stuff

Shrimp, shorty, shortcake, pip squeak...I heard them all as a kid. Yep, I was the kid always at the front of the line. If it was time to line up in size order, you-know-who was front and center. "Really sweetie, you need to be in the front row of the picture so we can see you." "I'm sorry, you have to be up to the bear's hand to go on this ride." "Here is a kiddie menu for you my dear." Ah, good times.

I can remember my friends all going to the juniors department to find their dresses for 8th grade graduation. At the same time, my mom and I searched Dutchess County and beyond for a size 10 children's dress that LOOKED like it came from the juniors department (there was no Limited Too or Justice back then!). Going to the movies with friends was always scary because I knew the ticket vendor was going to try and sell me the ticket for the under 12 price - even when I was 16. Simply the end of the world for a 16 year old hanging out with her friends.

Sure, being short sometimes had its advantages. I got to be the guardian angel in the Christmas pageant because I was the only one who could fit in the costume. I think I also got to be cheerleading captain for awhile for the same reason.

But mostly being "different" from my friends in this way, left me in constant fear of being teased. I hated the nicknames, and the misunderstandings about my age due to my small stature. I just wanted to fit in, but being smaller than most everyone else made me at times feel awkward and not good enough. I had lots of friends, did well in school, and had a great family, but these worries still hurt.

Just about every kid in every school in every country is going to get teased about something in his childhood. Let's face it ... kids can be mean to each other! But is there something we can do to help our children deal with these times? (Besides going to take care of the little teaser ourselves - come know you thought about it!) Is there a way to help prepare them for this awful part of childhood and to give them strategies for handling teasing so it doesn't hurt as much? Or to teach them how to stop it when it happens to them?

I think about what I did or could have done when being teased about being small. I could have told those closest to me that the jokes made me uncomfortable. I wasn't the best at opening up to friends, so maybe that was something I could have been taught to do. I could have stood up for myself more. Maybe I could have also learned to laugh along with some of the comments or events. Instead of getting upset about not fitting into the juniors sizes, maybe I could have joked with my friends about needing to borrow one of their little sister's dresses. I could have shared my anxiety, rather than hide it. Laugh at it, rather than worry about it. Now that I think about it, chances are there were other girls who weren't fitting into a size 2 or 4 at age 13 either. We could have commiserated together.

So, now as a mom I think about how I can teach my child to laugh at herself or open up to her friends about her worries or unhappiness with their comments. I think one way is by setting the example in my own life. Instead of complaining and getting upset on a bad hair day maybe say, "Wow, this is what they mean by a bad hair day! Wait till the moms at pick-up see this do - we are all going to have a good laugh this morning. Whom should I make laugh first?" Or when forgetting a friend's birthday, instead of voicing concern that she will be "so mad at me" say, " I can't believe I forgot her birthday! But you know what...she is such a great friend that I know she will understand. I am going to call her right now and wish her a belated birthday and tell her how much I love her." And instead of venting to everyone when a loved one makes you angry, say, "You know Uncle Paul made me really upset when he teased me about my opinion being stupid. I'm going to call him right now and talk to him about it so I don't waste any more time thinking about it."

I think that one of the best things I can do for my children is to be there for the hugs, the comfort, the talking it out after a bad day. Make sure that they understand that home is a safe place to let it all out. Now matter how small their worry may be, I will listen and take it seriously. And work with them to find a solution - or to just hold their worry for them so that they can move on. Because maybe that is what they need from us - to give us their worries so that we can help them carry them and make their load easier.

I want to teach my children to be strong. To stand up for themselves. To laugh at their mistakes and imperfections. To not take life too seriously. To learn that when other people make fun of them it is usually because of the other person's insecurity or jealousy and not because of them. To be kind and care about people, but not let anyone walk all over them.

It is a lot to teach, but I will try - one day, one moment at a time.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Friday, May 14, 2010

Roots of Worry

I guess I have always been a worrier. Being a good student, I worried about maintaining my status as one. I certainly did not want to get in trouble in school, and rarely did. I can clearly remember the time in 6th grade that I got yelled at by Sr. Margaret for talking too loud in the girls bathroom. Didn't matter that five other girls probably also got reprimanded, the fact that I did still stings when the memory comes up. The worry of getting in trouble often conflicted with my worry about the other kids liking me. I wanted to pass notes to be in the cool crowd, but was terrified of getting caught. I would lay awake nights hoping that I didn't get anything less than a 100 on a test (or 105 if there happened to be a bonus question), but then worried about looking like a know it all nerd in front of my friends. Yeah, I was definitely a worry kid.

That worry kid turned into a worry teenager, worry college student, worry twenty something, and worried adult. I don't think I realized through any of this that I WAS worrying so much. I just figured it was a normal thing to do. I mean, doesn't everybody worry? Doesn't everyone want to do well, have friends, succeed, be healthy and happy, have everyone like them, be perfect? OK, maybe not. Or maybe not to the extreme that I did. Looking back I see that worrying was my way of controlling the uncontrollable. If I worried enough about having friends, I would always have them. Worry enough about grades, and I would always get A's. Worry about making mistakes, and I would prevent myself from making them. Worrying for me led to thinking and thinking led to problem solving which led to taking action which often led to more worrying. And also led to a whole lot of stomach problems and dis -ease.

My head was a tape recorder (remember those?) set to shuffle and repeat that just kept playing the same messages over and over again: "If you don't agree with her opinion, she won't be your friend anymore." "If you drop the ball, they will all laugh at you, and know one will like you." " If you don't get a job right after college, you will not be able to repay your loans, and you will never become a teacher." "If you eat that pasta and don't exercise for an hour you will be fat." Over and over again, my brain replayed the same fears and anxieties and searched for away to solve the problem permanently, a black and white cure-all answer that would make me never have to worry about again. But even when one worry was solved or taken away, there was always a new one waiting to fill its spot in my brain. I don't think my brain, or my self, knew what to do if it wasn't worried. Those anxieties in a way were actually comforting to me - they were normal, what I knew best how to do - take them away and I would become depressed and bored. If I had no worries, who was I? Where was I going? What would I do?

Contentment, peace, true happiness - these are words that my brain would not understand till many years later. Thankfully, I am now in those "many years later" and am starting to realize the power of being content. The joy of not worrying. The miracle of the way this life really works.
And the meaning of true and lasting happiness. Does that mean I have all of the answers and don't worry anymore? Of course not. But my brain is also not the tape playing, anxious, future predicting monster it used to be. How did I get to this new place? Time, teachers, friends, reading, yoga, infertility - lots of letting go of of control. Like everything else, a journey. A journey I am still on.

And now I am a mom. Worrying can take on a whole new meaning when you are a mom. Doesn't it come with the territory? Is there anyway around it? Can you truly be a loving mom and not worry? Hmmm....I'm working on that too. Another road in the journey. A road in which I have picked up a passenger. A small, beautiful, innocent , young traveler just beginning this journey. My child. Yes, worry mom has a worry child. Traveling companions are always nice, but in this case I really wish he chose another route to his destination. But we are now here together, and as the older and wiser one (sometimes, just the older one) I want to show him the way. Make his journey a little quicker, less painful. Can he learn from my mistakes? Can I teach him another way to live? Can I help him become worry free? Oh hell -can I just take all his pains, illnesses, worries, hurts, sadness away so that he never is anything but happy and content. Really, is that too much to ask?

I know, I know...he has to go through his own experiences. Learn his own way. Develop his own strategies. Make his own meaning out of this life. But I am his mom. And I want to do what I can to help. I want to be a guide, an example, a source, a teacher. I can't take his worries away, but I can help him to learn to do it for himself. And in the process, I can continue to find ways to live my own life worry free. Because if I want my child not to worry, I must do the same. As Gandhi said "Be the change that you want to see." I'm sure going to try.

May your heart be at ease,
angela (Santosha सन्तोष - contentment)

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe. ~Author Unknown