It’s Not Whether You Get Knocked Down, It’s Whether You Get Up.

 

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In speaking with a teen the other day, I noticed how excited she was that a local newspaper was publishing a piece of her writing. After the article ran, her good mood plummeted. It seemed the comments she received online were not as exciting, nor inspirational. In fact, they were harsh and meant to cut her down.

Was this her first lesson in writing? Perhaps. But it is more than that. The post was about school shootings, something near and dear to the hearts of teens these days. It was heartfelt and well written. The comments accused her of being naive, blaming of her generation for their inability to cope, that it was not gun control that was the issue, but the lack of awareness and mental health of her generation. The angry comments were directed at her; they were accusatory and vindictive.

Maybe it is because I am a mom of a teen or because I have been the receiver of being cut down, unkind abusive words encouraging me to hide my true self, but what does anyone gain from cutting someone else down? Nothing. Your point gets lost, and you lose credibility. In fact, this is the worst way to try and change someone’s mind, get your point across.

It is in fact cowardly to hide behind a computer screen and lash out. It is especially harmful when it is done to one of our children. We can disagree, but where is the respect? Where is the compassion?

Will we get to the point where we all become afraid to speak our minds, our truth for fear of negative abusive comments, internet trolls waiting under the bride while we dance across in our billy-goat costumes, hoping to just make it to the other side?

I applaud Jimmy Kimmel in his addressing this issue – as the famous actors and musicians read the unkind comments that were hurled at them from someone, alone, lurking in the dark, his fingers spewing out their insecurities aimed at a more pliable source than himself. Or Demi Lovato addressing her weight issues directly addressing those who criticize how she looks, not who she is on the inside.

But, no matter how we spin it, it is not ok.

The old saying that hurt people, hurt people is the truth.  So how do we stop it? People in glass houses should not throw stones but they do. They throw rocks, and hurl insults at other people every day.

I grew up in a glass house, and I threw rocks at times, as a child. Probably to get someone to notice I was hurting because someone was hurting me. As adults, it is our responsibility. It is our job to know better. To do better. To protect and serve our children.

My blog is not political, and the point of this post is not about gun control, but respect, compassion and the true meaning behind awareness.

It is not just that the pen is mightier than the sword, but the pen can be equal to the sword in damaging another’s well-being. One is physical, the other emotional. Both are harmful.

Words can cut another off at the knees, place a stake through the heart, choke the life out of us. They can also be uplifting, inspirational and loving. Sometimes it is all about taking space.

Look at the following words when there is no space. This is what happens when we don’t take the space to think about our words. They become swords:

wordswordswordswordswordswordswordswordswords

Here is what it looks like when we take the space. Our words go back to being words:

words words words words words words words words words

This may be a simple example, but often the truth is simple. If you become angry, defensive, or feel the need to lash out, take a breath, take your space. This is just an new response to an old wound. Think about what you are needing to defend and why.

Whether it is through the written word or how we speak, we should all take space. Ask ourself – is this about me or her? Am I being kind and respectful in making my opinion known?

Knocking people down so we can feel better is short-lived, and like a drug, only temporarily takes away our own pain. Resolve your issues within yourself, not against someone else. Abusive remarks, abusive behavior happens often when people repeat what was said or done to them. The cycle of abuse can stop with you. Jump off that hamster wheel, and the next time you find yourself reacting to someone – take your space. Take a walk, take a hike, and wait. Then come back, check in with yourself, and ask, why is this bothering me to much?

And if you are the one who finds yourself on the ground, because someone knocked you down, you do not have to stay there. Dust yourself off, and know it was about them – not you. Then do better. Speak kindly to yourself and to others. Have compassion, and if you are pain, look for the hand that is there to help. Reach for that hand, instead of picking up a stone.

We owe it to our children.

We owe it to ourself.

We owe it to our world.

 

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The Dance of Narcissism

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She can feel it coming a mile away.  A sideways glance, that look in his eye, or a single word.  Her heart pounds, her stomach clenches, she waits for her life jacket, yet the ocean of abuse seems to overwhelm her hopes. Waves of disappointment shake her to her core, drowning her hopes that this time things will be different.

Perhaps one day, she will calmly call it for what it is, who he is. But for now, she only need know the signs. Narcissistic abuse is insidious, harmful. The manipulation, the invisible tool strikes sideways, or when her back is turned. Like a poison that seeps into her bloodstream, chipping away at her self-esteem until she becomes a shell of who she once was.

She knows. Somewhere in the depths of her soul, she knows. She sees him, drinking up the beauty of his own image. She is his toy, his fuel, prey to feed his own hunger for power and dominance. Truth is, he is hollow, and the one who must fill his emptiness. His unsuspecting victims lured with charm, unaware they wandered into the lion’s den, soon to know the depths of his untethered soul.

It is the trademark of a narcissist, to stop at nothing, keeping his control at all costs. The Narcissistic abuser cannot tolerate the tiniest of chinks in his armor created by any form of real or imagine laughter or lack of respect, and will resort to blame, accusations and always repercussions. When she is dancing with a narcissist, something will always come back to bite her. Always.

Unable to see the walls of her prison, even if she knows they are there, she continues dancing. She cannot feel the noose around her neck, the coldness of the loaded gun pointed at her unsuspecting heart, often blind to the fact that he pulls the trigger often, and without remorse. Strangely, there is no mark.  At least that anyone else can see. But she is left grasping for air.

Like an energy vampire, all narcissists need victims, as much as they need a mirror to drink up their own image. Once bitten by a narcissist, she has been unknowingly been recruited for the toughest boot camp around. Her training has been intense, and she emerges as a ninja, able to sniff out the abuse from the most elaborate disguises. Or she becomes a victim, over and over. Unaware that she has a choice, that she can get away once and for all.

Yes, perhaps she has had enough.

As she begins piercing a hole in the narcissist’s costume, it will send him raging, scouring the dance floor to right what has been wronged – but it is only his fragile ego that teeters on the brink of destruction with each step. It is never too late to excuse herself from this dance.

Contempt emerges. Disbelief enrages. She has begun clearing the cobwebs. There is a way out, and that is to step aside. To know this truth within her heart, and unravel herself from the narcissist’s web, he was so crafty in designing.

She is now free to choose another partner, or better yet, exit the dance floor completely. For without engaging herself as a partner or victim, the narcissist cannot attack her. With time, she will be free to hand her dance card to someone else.

She used to take it, unknowingly blame herself.  At times, her body still reacts like a well-trained prisoner of war. Her body remembers. And that is ok. For once she has clawed her way out, she will be aware. Once the red flags arise, right behind them the white ones will wave. It is then, she will hand in her dance card forever.

She is not crazy.  She knows the truth. She can now follow her heart with each sunrise and sunset, releasing herself to feel the beauty of life. She is free.

One Spoonful, One Single Act of Kindness

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It was 1977. I was scared, but I knew I was in a good place. Surrounded by 10 other girls my age, I was just dropped off at summer camp for the first time. I was a shy, but athletic kid. I could overcome my social awkwardness by kicking one of those slightly squishy oversized red balls over the heads of the most hopeful of outfielders. Always, I was the first picked for any teams, and the fastest runner. Yet, none of my strength or speed helped that late morning, when I first stood at the foot of my bed, watching many of the other girls, laughing and reuniting from last summer.

It was a moment of relief, when one of my counselors walked over to me, sensing how I was feeling. “I’m Gina,” she said, pointing to her name tag. I smiled, shyly. “Come on, let’s go meet the other girls.” I let her lead me over to the group, still feeling awkward, but joining in a game of jacks. By the end of the morning, I was already feeling better, thanks to Gina. At that moment, I could not know that 10 days later, Gina would reach out to me again, in the moment I would need it most.

As a former recruiter, I know you can only find so much about a person before you hire them. You ask questions, scan resumes, but in the end you must make assumptions that you hope are right. Most of the time, you get it right – but not always. Some people look good on paper or over the phone, but do not end up being the best fit for a job. Others – you don’t realize just how good they are. That summer at camp, I had both. An incredible counselor, Gina, and a less than optimal one, Nancy.

It was about 10 days into camp (so 10 months), and we were all sitting around our dining table. Servers, who were also bunkmates, were moving back and forth, bringing bug juice, cups, plates, and whatever dinner was prepared that evening. I was a picky eater. No worries. There was always peanut butter and jelly on the table – my favorite.

Dinner that night was some sort of meat. I think it was pot roast -not my favorite. I went to reach for the peanut butter and jelly, the loaf of soft white bread, glistening against the wooden table. Nancy stopped me in my tracks, “No!” She uttered, grabbing my hand. Nancy liked to exert control over us, because she could. Her moods affected her action more than common sense. More often than not, she made up her own rules. We did not know when and where she was going to strike, but when she did, we listened. I took my hand back like I had been burned, and held it in my lap.

Tears sprung to my eyes at the thought of going hungry, or worse having to eat the pot roast. But it was more than that. I was tasting the feeling of fear upon my tongue. I knew that feeling well, as it was a familiar feeling at home, one akin to walking on eggshells. Sometimes the mood was better, and you felt free to be yourself, but then the rules could change in a heartbeat, and you got burned.

But this was camp, my safe place. Yet, there I sat, helpless, my plate empty, waiting for Nancy’s emotions to calm, and her need for control to pass. There I sat, helpless, trying to make myself invisible in a room full of screaming campers, feeling scared and alone as I did that first day. 

Problem was, dinner was ending, and having run around all day, I was really hungry, and afraid to speak up. It was then, I felt it. A tap on my knee. I looked beneath the table, and there was a hand. It was Gina’s. Her fingers held on to a spoon, filled with peanut butter. I realized in that moment, I was not the only one afraid of Nancy. We are never alone – we just think we are.

I looked up at Gina, as if that spoon was a scalpel and we were about to do surgery. She nodded at me. Take it. her eyes pleaded. I nodded back, and took the spoon, got up from the table, away from Nancy’s disapproving eyes. I hid in the corner, eating that spoonful of peanut butter, feeling both shame and relief. Feelings that would fight for bragging rights over the course of most of my life, until I would finally name them both.

As I reach into the my memory box, clearing away some of the cobwebs to come up with the details of this story, I admit to not even remembering if Nancy is her real name, while Gina’s name, I will never forget.

If Gina had not reached out to me, I could have gone a bit hungry that night, but probably not. Nobody went hungry at camp. We were likely getting canteen, candy in an hour or two, or making s’mores by the campfire. But she did, and it meant more to me than she will ever know. She reached out to me, not knowing the impact. 

There were many people in my life, that went on to hand me spoonfuls of peanut butter. My incredible life long friends, my dear husband, my former kind and patient boss, my children and my dogs – all scoops of peanut butter. Playing cards with my father when I was sick, sitting on the grass in the college quad with my wonderful poetry professor, laughing till our sides ache with my husband – all scoops of peanut butter. I have even learned how to scoop my own peanut butter with a nap on the beach, a walk through a wooded path, a funny movie and a warm fire on a icy winter morning.

Summer camp, as it turned out would become one big scoop of peanut butter after another, a place even my daughters would eventually call home, many years later.

I am sure Gina would not remember that night, or knew the impact of such a small act of compassion. Just as we do not know if our smile at a stranger or a quick text to a friend could brighten their day, or even prevent him from hurting himself. Kindness can have more of an impact than abuse, hatred and drama – especially when someone has been the recipient of both. One spoonful, one single act of kindness – so simple and yet so meaningful. We can all impact each other, choose how we connect. Why not choose kindness?

Today, I sometimes wonder where Gina is – if she has a family, what jobs she took on, if she travelled as a single warrior woman, or made a home, nestled in the security of suburbia. I would like to think she is still handing out spoonfuls of peanut butter wherever she goes.

WHAT MY TEENAGE DAUGHTERS TAUGHT ME ABOUT INSTAGRAM, THE BREAKFAST CLUB AND LIFE

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Yes! Parenting is amazing, tough, rewarding, challenging, incredible, invigorating and exhausting all at the same time. Throw in a couple of teenage daughters into the mix, and life is brought to a whole new level.

We teach our children each and every day, but they also teach us!

Many parents complain that the teenage years are rough. And perhaps they are, but I have always believed that within each challenge is a gift. We just need to know where to look for it.

20 lessons from teenage daughters to their mom

I took some time over the past few weeks, as my second daughter, a senior in high school, is preparing to leave the this August, to think about all the gifts I have received by raising two daughters through their teenage years. Narrowing it down was tough, but listed below are the top twenty things that my teenagers have taught me:

20 Lessons From My Teenage Daughters

1. The snooze button, that goes off at least ten times, works for waking up the entire house. So you really never need to purchase an alarm clock.

2. Snapchat filter is the easiest and cheapest way to look 10 years younger. Forgo the Facelift and Makeover!

3. There is such a thing as posting too much or too little on Social Media. Finding the right balance is as important as discovering the best Chinese food restaurant for take out.

4. There is an app for everything.

5. You do not need a date to go to the prom, but you do need to buy your dress months in advance, showcase it to everyone on a specific Facebook group, so nobody shows up wearing the same dress. (Because that is far worse than bad tasting Chinese take out)

6. Starbucks is the new “library” and the best place to study, no matter how loud it gets.

7. Facebook is out, Instagram is in, until Facebook becomes in again, and then Instagram is out. (This can happen all in the same day)

8. The Breakfast Club is still a cool movie.

9. It is ok to follow someone on Instagram, it is not ok to do this in real life. Then it’s called stalking.

10.It is more acceptable to break up with someone face to face, although nobody does it.

11. Actually calling someone as opposed to texting is only acceptable in an emergency and if you are over the age of forty.

12. Coming out is brave, bullying is cowardly, and both of these are always happening somewhere in the United States every day.

13. Where you choose to go to college depends on, but is not limited to: reviews on website, what friends you have met online before you even set foot on campus, what the dress is for football games, if the mascot and school colors are cool.

14. What college chooses you depends upon highest ACT score even if you have taken it ten times, how many extra curricular activities you can jam into one so you don’t have time to breathe, how much you stand out, even though everyone is trying to stand out.

15. Having a family dog is awesome. Cleaning up poop or throw up from the dog – not so much.

16. Popularity still matters, but only to those who are popular.

17. Getting your driver’s license is code for “I will be eating dinner out at Qdoba or Panera at least five times this week” and “I didn’t have time to pick up your dry cleaning.”

18. You do not run to the mailbox to check for large envelopes of college acceptance letters but you do check your email at least ten times a day for a notification that you have been notified.

19. It is no longer a thing to go out in “groups” but is a thing to be in a “group chat.”

20. When teenage daughters are dying to grow up and go off to college , it is the exact moment when they realize all that they will miss and love about home. This is the real definition of having mixed feelings.

 

***This blog post was published as well on Grown and Flown online parenting website, and can be found here, Grown and Flown, where parenting never ends along with other incredible articles on parenting through the high school and college years.

My Response to my 9-year-old son’s Statement: “Immigrants cause Cancer.”

My latest essay published on Elephant Journal:

 

My Response to my 9-year-old son’s Statement: “Immigrants cause Cancer.”

“Do you want to hear something funny, Mom?”

I glanced at my nine-year-old son, but was also busy fixing my rear-view mirror and adjusting the heat in the car.

Because we were running late for school, I was only half paying attention when he said, “Immigrants cause cancer.”

If I had taken a sip of coffee, I would have spit it out right then.

“Where did you hear that?” I asked, holding my breath. I mean, it could have been a myriad of places—another kid, who heard it from another kid, who heard it from his parents…or the internet, as turned out to be the case. In a YouTube video.

While the video itself is clearly intended to be humorous, I was dumbfounded. I immediately replied to my son, who I adopted from Russia, “Did you know that you are an immigrant?” I paused to let that sink in. “And there are many reasons why that statement is not funny. Let me explain.”

Stunned, my son sat in complete silence.

In that moment, I realized there are so many things a nine-year-old just doesn’t understand. Most children his age are only just trying to grasp the nature of our world, and nowadays, it is right there in front of them to take in. Donald Trump has created the newest form of reality TV—he and his policies are everywhere.

Now, should my nine-year-old be watching YouTube uncensored? Maybe not. Which begs the question, should he even be anywhere within 10 feet of the TV when we are watching CNN, Stephen Colbert, or Saturday Night Live? Because there is hardly a difference anymore.

Technology has brought the outside world into our homes. And a big part of the outside world, at least in America, is “The Donald Trump Show.”

No matter how much we would like to shelter our children so that they can one day create their own objective views of the world when they’re old enough to actually form them based on higher learning, we simply can’t.

As parents, most of us have been sucked into “The Donald Trump Show,” regardless of which side we are on. We toss our opinions around like a pizza, eventually dropping them on the counter, placing some good-tasting stuff on top, and hoping that someone agrees ours is the best one to sink their teeth into.

Politics is everywhere because of Donald Trump. Social media is everywhere, too, and our kids are learning how to navigate the world of technology at a very early age. The combination of these means that our children will hear things that are racist, biased, false, vindictive, and just plain mean. How can we expect our children to act responsibly online if our president won’t even do so? Or if their role models—athletes, movie stars, singers—post Instagram pictures showcasing how good they look in a bathing suit, as if that’s all that matters in life?

Well, we can, if we teach them the value our words and actions carry.

We are not going to change our world overnight, nor are we going to impeach our president anytime soon—and maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe the lessons we are all learning from this are invaluable.

Our children are growing up in the age of technology, and there is really no way around it. We, as parents, need to show them why our words matter. Posting should follow The Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Technology ensures that our words and pictures stay out there for more than a moment—and sometimes forever.

That morning, it didn’t matter that we were late for school. I pulled over to talk about why that video was hurtful. And it was a good lesson.

On my way home, I thought about censoring my son’s time online, which I already do because, well, the whole shorter attention span thing. And the addictive nature of technology. And the “stranger danger” worries. But he is not learning compassion for others from the internet; he is learning it at home. And he is making some mistakes, just as we did growing up (teasing someone without realizing its impact, for instance). Many of us grew into compassionate, responsible adults, and so will our children.

Taking away our children’s social media will just postpone the lessons they will learn. We do not take away the stove so they won’t burn themselves, or the stairs so they won’t trip. They will fall, and they will burn themselves, and they will learn the lesson, hopefully sooner rather than later, that words matter, that what we read online is usually just one person’s opinion, that there are people out there who are unhappy and in pain and lash out with criticisms and judgments online as a result. And there are those in power who have access to Twitter who are able to say whatever they wish to whomever they please.

What we can do, as parents, is teach our children the difference between right and wrong. To slow down and think about the impact their words might have on another. To remember the tenets of mindful speech.

Yes, our words matter, even if our president does not understand this truth. Allowing our children to learn this lesson early will help them become more aware about the nature and importance of responsible posting, texting, tweeting, and commenting. Preventing them access will just keep them in a bubble, which will inevitably burst.

 

 

You can find this essay on Elephant Journal, as well as other thought provoking articles.

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2018/01/my-response-to-my-9-year-old-sons-statement-immigrants-cause-cancer/