college, life lessons, motherhood

TIME WILL TELL

Preface: My son graduated from college last week. Needless to say most graduations during the time of Covid were a little less than desirable so we made the best of a crappy situation for our young ones headed off to the world. I found myself as the time approached saying, If my son’s greatest disappointment in life is not having a formal college graduation ceremony, I would say, he has led a pretty successful life. But as time came closer to the day, I think it was me who was filled with the disappointment. I like ceremony and pomp and circumstance, so I did find myself wallowing a bit. But like any pragmatist, I also found myself making the best of it and ultimately this is the example I set for my son as he watched me plan a social distancing party, albeit smaller than we would have wanted, but it just made for multiple parties instead.

Since my gift is usually writing and speaking, I, of course, wrote and spoke. I thought that it would be nice to share what I said. Some of it is personal in the sense that it is directed to him and so the people references, you as the reader may not know. I was going to change it, but I decided to leave it as is so you could read it and see where my heart was this past Sunday.

To all of the college grads out there who didn’t get to have the graduation they dreamed of, I am with you and this is for you too.

TIME WILL TELL

There are all of these hopes and dreams from the perch of our young lives as we think about the future of our older lives. And for those of us already here, past that dream state, with much more time behind us then time ahead of us, we have our never ending quotes and commentary to offer. 

And offer we do. 

We spew our words of wisdom without ever being asked for it, we offer our sage advice because we think it is helpful to impart our life experience to our little ghosts of Christmas past thinking they will be all too eager to learn from our own mistakes of our own Christmas pasts. 

I have written endless letters to my own son, read these letters at poignant and significant moments in time. One, entry into kindergarten, Ten, Bar Mitzvah, fifth grade graduation, entry into middle school, saying aloud, Dad and I are splitting up, graduation from middle school, entry into high school, saying aloud, I have breast cancer, Sixteen, Eighteen, graduating high school, entry into college, twenty one, and now here. College Graduation during Covid. 

I, like so many parents and grandparents I know, have had a lot to say. And I still do. This is the free pass of parenting. A permission slip to embark on my own personal sculpting of another human being. 

As much as I have thought of myself as an expert teacher simply due to my own personal past life goods and bads, only time will tell. There is so much more to parenting than just quotes and commentaries. 

There is so much more to being a good parent and mother than baking chocolate chip cookies after school and volunteering as room mom. There are many great moms and parents who have done all of these things, but end up with fucked up children. Then there are parents who do none of these things and end up with amazing humbled children. Is it luck of the draw?

There is no set in stone equation for ending up with a great human. Nature versus nurture surely is an age old consideration. But none of it matters after. We can all have the best of intentions and the only part that matters is the end result.

Have we raised a kind and considerate person who will instinctively be kind and considerate because of our examples we anointed them with so they had a jumping off point? 

Time does tell. Because at twenty two years old, watching my son navigate through his mostly privileged life, I can say with a resounding yes, that my former husband and I raised a great man who has his life ahead of him in the way young parents get to dream of. 

I watch young parents walk by my house all day long when I sit on the front porch writing. They are so sweet, checking on the baby in the carriage, looking so hopeful and protective, trying to look like they have a plan that will be carried out just as they imagine. 

I know with certainty that they can plan all they want and I would never suggest taking that hope away from their lives, but there are so many possibilities to shake up that plan and all we can do is our best. 

Our best every day is a big commandment because the truth be told, sometimes I didn’t feel like being a mom or a parent. Sometimes I just wanted to go to the beach by myself and smoke pot and go out drinking and not have to worry about taking care of a little one. Sometimes the calling to freedom was so great that I prayed no one could read my mind lest anyone thinks I was a bad mother. But those moments were really rare. 

I loved being a mom and a parent. And for the most part I think I was a good enough one mainly because my intention was secure and it matched the love in my heart. This is the best anyone could do. 

I had it easy with you, Michael. You seemed to be born good. I thought I was going to have a hippy son who had long hair and played the guitar. I thought I was going to have a son who wanted to travel instead of getting a job right out of school. But, much to your joy, I didn’t name you Ocean, I named you after the other love of my life, my brother, your Uncle Michael, so your destiny was determined. Goodness. Intelligent. Loving. Kind. Saavy. And incredibly Pragmatic. 

I like to think that you got the best of all of the best. The linear mathematical brain and intense love of sports of Dad and Grandpa Bill. The permission to easily cry as a man from Grandpa Manny,  the pragmatism and fiscal responsibility of Herbie, the problem solving and personal responsibility of Isabelle, the entrepreneurial spirit of Grandpa Dave, the joy of cooking of Grandma Sandy, Grandma Kitsie and Grandma Ann, the love of the Red Sox from Aunt Kiley and the love of animals from Kiley and of course Aunt Peggy. 

Of course from me, the love of travel and the curiosity of life, humility and kindness and charitability, business acumen, asking questions endlessly and knowing that I have always been a safe space for you to be with. 

The essence of my brother, your uncle Michael you never got to meet, but I have known on the deepest most spiritual level, he has walked with you for your entire life. This has given me the greatest of comfort for the past twenty two years on this planet. Michael walks with you, carries you sometimes, and has guided you along on this road to now.

As much as these people have influenced you, you have equally influenced them simply by your presence. And this is one of the best benefits of parenting, coming to the realization that your child teaches you as much as you teach him. I would say this is the greatest gift of parenting. 

I have said that my little successes of checking off my I did a good job parenting list have been some of those milestones- Bar Mitzvah, getting you to Israel and seeing the world with our dear friends, the Madsens, paying for private high school and getting you through college with no debt, buying you your first real car so you have wheels to not worry about as you start your life. This to me all has the value of the best graduation gift for sure.

But it is with no accident that the time that does tell is the bookend of your most significant graduation gift. The passing of a torch so to speak but not in the way life would normally dictate and this is the beauty of the gift. Neat little plans of how things should be are often not how they end up. 

A father should pass on sentimental gifts to his son and then that gift should head to the next generation, but we know now that this is not how our lives have unfolded. 

Uncle Michael died much too young, but before all of that, he was a young vibrant and incredibly fit young man. He at twenty two had a lovely girlfriend named Eva whom he lived with. They bought matching watches that were probably more expensive than they could afford, but he loved this watch as they both loved to dive and this watch was for diving. 

Little did he know that three short years later, he would be passing it on a generation up not down, so the watch went to Grandpa Dave. Then after he died, the watch made its way back to me where it has sat for the past nine years trying to figure out a safe way to have it repaired. 

As luck would have it, at the anniversary of Grandpa Dave’s death, I heard of a place in Newport that repaired Tag watches. It also happened to be in Brick Market one of the first places I remember Grandma Ann and Grandpa Dave looking at when they were moving to Jamestown. 

As you likely imagine, I like the neatness of this. So I brought the watch to Saltzmans and they made it like new. And now on this day, the 24th of May which by the way the numbers add up to 11, I get to pass this beloved gift to you on your graduation day. 

Three generations of Horowitz men, even though you are technically a White, you are also a Horowitz, the Jewish part of you that will bring with you on your long path ahead traditions like this and culture, and intellectual curiosity that is an inherent part of your birthright. Who is left of the Horowitz men is the bookend, ironically of the eldest patriarch, Herbie at 102 and you, the great grandson. The in-betweens have passed on and passed themselves on through you. 

I know you love me deeply, Michael White, but the intensity of my love for you as a human is something that makes me feel like my life has been worthy of my beating heart. 

I love you so much and am so incredibly proud of you. Time has told and time will continue to tell in your core being as a man and now on your wrist as you march forth towards the future.

life lessons, motherhood

TO MOTHERS DAY

I was raised with lots of expectations leading me to a lifetime of feelings of not good enough over my lifetime. Expectations are a double edged sword. We set them and expect. We expect certain behaviors, we expect performance, we even expect people to show up and act like they should act based on our own set of standards and values. In a work environment, this is standard practice and is a necessary piece of the puzzle we call careers. In our families, though, at times, expectations can also have layers of guilt attached and this is when they can turn into something other than what was originally intended.

In my family, when I was a kid, there was always an expectation of being good. What does this even mean? We use this one liner well into our adult lives when we say things like, “I’ve been good,” as it relates to avoiding the enjoyment of a nice big bowl of ice cream when we rationalize the stop on a warm summer day. “I’ve been good,” we say when we have decided to stop doing something that could interrupt us mentally or physically like going to the gym, abstaining from the nightly routine of a big glass of red after a long hard day at the office or making a big purchase when trying to say on a strict budget.

I’ve been good is a phrase so easily tossed around when our brains need to change some behavior that may have otherwise been helpful to our beings and we need a rationale for the change. At least this is me and my patterns. It is all too easy to blame this belief system on how I was raised, but the truth of the matter is, expectations are set so we have something to reach. At times they may seem unobtainable but we keep trying to climb anyway. We fall off the horse and we either walk away or we get back on and try again. Sometimes the very expectations that are set are subtle. In my memory much of our experiences are subjective when we look back. Two siblings can live under the same roof and have two completely opposing memories of one experience. I linked an interesting podcast below on the subject of memory from Malcolm Gladwell that will surely question your own memories.

When it came to birthdays and Mother’s Day, I was expected, as many of us were, to give at least a card and as I got older send one in a timely manner. This seems reasonable on paper, but for me, because there was an unwritten code that this was something I was supposed to do, often I would forget or be late in getting the card in the mail. This would cause hurt feelings, causing me to feel like a failure as a daughter, guilty as charged for missing the boat, lacking thoughtfulness and consideration for the person who gave birth to me.

I could never seem to get it right. Mother’s Day is always on a Sunday and if I mailed the card on a Monday, it would surely arrive in time. But Monday seemed to early, so Tuesday or Wednesday would be my target date so the card would arrive in perfect timing for Sunday. But I wanted the card to arrive on Saturday because for some reason earlier than that seemed contrived. At least in my monkey brain of aiming for perfection and then finding myself forgetting to mail the card completely until it was too late thus arriving after Mother’s Day defeating the whole holiday all together.

Clearly there was more to the simple act of sending a card here, years of expectations all fully present in all of this thinking. As easy as it sounds to get birthdays and Mother’s Day right, one slip up and you get it wrong and two people end up feeling bad defeating the purpose. Perhaps if my relationship with my mother hadn’t been so tumultuous over the years, these issues would be non existent. I never forget my son’s birthday or anyone I am deeply connected with. Ironically, this entire problem was solved when my mother stopped talking to me and in some ways it was freedom from the pressure of not getting it right.

The true irony though is not sending my mother a Mother’s Day card when she wasn’t speaking to me became almost painful. So at year two, I sent her a blank one that I had hand written simply, “You are still my mother,” and sent it on its way. In all of the years of those silent thunderous expectations, this card was probably the best Mother’s Day card I had sent. Because it was my own thoughts and heart that sent it, not Hallmark’s, and not my mother’s. Mine. My decision, my kindness.

When I had my own child, I made a decision to not set the barre for any of this nonsense. If my son made me a card, sent me a card, wrote a few lines with a stubby pencil on a piece of scrap paper, simply said Happy Mother’s Day or none of the above, this one day did not summarize his lack of love and adoration for me. I would not allow one day of the year to dictate the other three hundred and sixty four. The feelings of guilt in not getting it right and my own mother’s hurt expressions over the years would not be something I would put on my son. Ever. And I think because of this deliberate act, I have been the recipient of lovely handwritten stubby penciled notes over the years that have more meaning than any five dollar sappy card. As a result I have had lots of lovely Mother’s Days and I enjoy them so much because I know that when if time comes when my son could get married and have children, these Mother’s Days will have a shift for sure. So they are precious and appreciated.

I write this today so that we can remember that days like Mother’s Days are not about professing a years worth of maternal adorations for all of our hard work. If your child forgets to do something special, or not as special as you would have liked, could it be possible to just allow this and use the day to remember how lucky we are that we actually have children? Maybe we could choose to not say anything, not show hurt or disappointment but to just show gratitude for the day.

Every single day is special and as my own son gets older, I am more in tune with the privilege of having a healthy child who is still alive and well, who has made it this far so far. This is the best Mother’s Day gift I could ask for. Keeping this in perspective is the lesson from my mother over the years that I have learned the hard way, but my son gets to reap the rewards from.

one of the many lovely Mother’s Days out for a walk with my boy.

Happiest of Mother’s Day to all of you who get to wake up to your child tomorrow. There are so many moms who don’t. Lets try to remember this as we lie hoping for the breakfast in bed or the call that may not come at exactly the time you wanted or at all. As my grandmother used to quote frequently, “Those who hath no expectations shan’t be disappointed.” Easier said than done, but perhaps just relishing in the day and using it as an excuse for breaking your own rules, going out for your own ice cream sundae or a walk alone in the park listening to the birds and celebrating your own goodness as a mother. Enjoy the glorious day and cherish the little people we have raised. This is something to celebrate for sure.

motherhood

LETTING HIM GO

In therapy there is a term used to describe the healthy separation between people, especially a parent and a child. Differentiation is the word that says you did a good job, you have a healthy separation from each other and basically the nest can be disassembled and rebuilt differently. Like that hilarious commercial when the son goes off to college and the parents tearfully bid goodbye then run into the house to turn the kid’s bedroom into a Jacuzzi bathroom. Differentiation allows the natural separation to be normal, tearful yes, but a healthy one.

There are lots of little steps leading up to the true and finite land of differentiation and all of them lay the groundwork, (hands in prayer position here) for the final move out to their own apartment or house at some later time. But differentiation is more than a physical change of scenery, it is psychological and human too. It is the proverbial disconnect of needing to parent, to mother and allow your child to parent himself. Leaving him for the first time at day care, putting him on the school bus to kindergarten, teaching him to swim and letting him go into the ocean for his first time while you watch from the shoreline, the first day of middle school and high school, hugging them after their first broken heart, being there at their first strike out at a playoff game. The list goes on and on and they all build off of each other each time gaining momentum and strength for later. Later. When the emotional bond between you shifts and though you love each other immensely, you don’t need each other for survival, physical or emotional. You can still have the most open and connected heart, but you are ok with yourself enough to separate and fly, free and healthy. Free from issues of abandonment or over parenting that may find you in therapy later on struggling with your own relationships. Differentiation says I love you, you love me but we are not so intertwined in each other’s lives that we either can’t separate or we can’t wait to separate. It is the more neutral in the middle of it, the sweet spot of the hard worked results of parenting well, or as well as you thought at the time.

I understood this concept only recently as both a daughter and a partner. It has taken me all of these years to truly comprehend the true definition of its power and once I recognized the true sense of differentiation, I welcomed it into the life of my son and me wholeheartedly. He has actually taught me differentiation by his own sense of self. Another unexpected gift of being a mother and a parent for the last twenty one years. Differentiation is also the ability to be able to disagree without that volcanic surge causing a behavior that in retrospect certainly serves no one. I would also call this choosing not to take the bait. The bait being when a family member says something to get a response out of you, usually one that causes that previous mentioned surge. My son and I haven’t had that experience and I don’t anticipate it; I would say we have a pretty healthy mother son relationship, but I won’t really know this until he navigates his own relationship in the future. Relationships are the unique viewfinders we get to look through to see what our parent child relationships were really made of.

In anticipation of my son’s trip to Israel last week, he had to get to NYC the day before as he was going to meet a friend. He is a mature twenty-one and this was as simple as getting on a train and heading south where his friend agreed to meet him and escort him back to his house in Queens. As I write this from the position of After, it is a no brainer. For some reason though, I was filled with anxiety, stress, worry and no matter how much meditation and self talk I did, my heart would not stop racing and the anxious thoughts would not settle. Where was this coming from? I finally realized that I had two very definitive travel experiences involving NYC and when I traced back to the exact moments of those, I was able to at least give some credence to my angst. This had nothing to do with his own experience, it was my stuff from my past that was informing this present moment. Wild.

When I was twenty three I went to Paris by myself for a month, flying over with someone I worked with where we would stay together for three days and then part ways. I had a blast and learned so much about myself in this experience. This was before credit cards for twenty year olds, before cell phones, before Google maps. Just me and Rick Steves’ book on Paris for 10.00 a day or something like that. When I came home I had a hundred dollars in my pocket and the flight was late. I took a bus from JFK to Penn station and realized there were no trains that late and I had no way to get back to Rhode Island. Penn Station in 1989 was frightening and there was no way I should have been near the place at 11:30 pm looking like a vulnerable young woman. Some man came up to me and offered to help me with my bags and in my stupor, I agreed as I made my way to the taxi stand to fortunately go to a friend’s house who when I called on the payphone answered and told me to come there immediately. When the taxi driver saw this man with my bag, he began yelling at him that he was ruining tourism and that he was trying to take advantage of me which promptly forced me back into a quick wake up. What an idiot I was. But at the same time, I felt like there was some higher force looking out for me. I safely got to my friend’s apartment and all was well.

The second experience was much later. I was headed to NYC on the train from Providence to attend a training seminar and I was to arrive for a 10:00 am class on a Tuesday on Park Avenue. Excited to be in New York I vowed to myself that I would visit more often as it was such a short train ride. I remember the day and date well. It was September 4, 2001 exactly one week before September 11th at exactly the same time I arrived at Penn Station. I was struck by the random dates and times we land someplace or don’t. I hadn’t been to New York for at least five years and there I was exactly one week by pure chance earlier then the worst terrorist event of my lifetime. All of this showed up to the table unannounced, long tucked away with cobwebs in the attic as I helped my son get ready for his trip. This is amazing to me as it proves to me that traumatic events never leave us and make their reappearances like a well planned surprise party.

My son and I made it to the train station with him not rolling his eyes even. I kept telling him that my nervousness had nothing to do with my trust in his ability to navigate and he reminded me that he has lots of outside US travel experience. The irony was that I was not even the least anxious about him going to Israel. An area the size of New Jersey surrounded by countries that hate them, it was that New York thing. This is why I knew my worry was not about Michael. It was my stuff and I had to go deep in the vault to be able to say a normal goodbye to him as I brought him to the train station last Sunday. I hugged him and kissed him more than he would have liked but he allowed it. No I didn’t go into the train station with him and wait, this was as much about him leaving as it was about me letting him leave, more differentiation steps for the likely final one of him really leaving at some point in time. All normal. All healthy. All the way it is supposed to be between a parent and a child when you get it right. I got in my car after saying my final goodbye and sobbed my eyes out like I had just put him on the kindergarten bus for the first time. I know now that the tears were the final release of the grief I must have felt in those unique experiences. He made it safely to his friend’s and is in Israel now having what I suspect is the time of his life. Just how it should be. AMEN.

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