The Blank Canvas

With the New Year upon us and a fresh blank canvas laid out before us, many adults commit to different ways they are going to change their lives. They iterate goals they would like to reach and set out in pursuit of them. Not unlike others I have goals but I tend to reevaluate them on a regular basis, so I did not make any hard and fast resolutions this year. It occurred to me this morning that it was time to have the talk about 2019 goals and resolutions with my boys, especially my eight year old.

Each month at school the Principal’s Award is given to one student in each class. As I launched into my lecture about how he may be able to receive it if he worked hard and went above and beyond, he responded with an answer that reflected his personality. “I am going to let other people get them. I am not out only for myself”. This led me to have a talk with him about how that is a beautiful attitude in some areas but that we all need to have something we are working towards, striving for. He looked at me and said, “I am not working towards the Principal’s Award. I want to reach a goal that is closer”. It was only then that I realized that my anxiety had informed this lecture. Didn’t all children wish to be recognized by the Principal while the whole school looked on? Or is that my hope for him? Each time I open my Facebook feed on the first Friday of the month, I am reminded that my son has not received the Principal’s Award since Kindergarten. In turn that leads me to berate myself about how I am not doing enough as a mother. He needs to read more, practice his math facts more and watch less TV. Changes may need to be made, but nothing positive comes out of me criticizing myself. What really needs to happen is that I need to take a step back and separate my insecurities about mothering from him as a student. Furthermore, the Principal’s Award is not the measure of him as a student or me as a mother. (As I sit and write these words I feel quite neurotic but I know that if I am feeling this way so are others!)

While I quickly reigned in my anxiety, the urgency in my voice quelled and I asked him what his goals were. He explained to me what he wanted to achieve. Now the fire returned to my voice, but not in an anxious way, in a motivational way. “Well, let’s reach this goal! What do we have to do in order to crush it? Let’s get started right away!” For a second there I felt like I was on a big stage giving a motivational speech. It worked though. I saw the fire ignite in him. The drive that I was so afraid he was lacking, kicked in. It was there all along. I just wasn’t tapping into it.

It is easy to relate to my middle child as his personality mirrors mine in many ways. Fear of failure sometimes affects how I set and achieve goals. Part of the reason I reevaluate  my goals frequently is because I need to make sure they are a stretch but still attainable. My trainer, Jessika Ramie of FYTE.co, often says, “We may have to adjust our expectations.” Through this mindset, and with her help, I have been able to structure my goals and plans to reach them in a way that fosters success. In turn, my confidence is boosted and I am willing to strive for more and more. My aim is to scaffold this same experience for my son. The more confident he feels, the more he will try. If we have no goals and nothing to strive for, we make much smaller leaps and bounds in life.

Striving to be our best is a lesson that is important for my boys to learn. They must know that their best means their best. In a world where competition runs rampant it is easy to get caught up in it. For some people this means they may become obsessed with it. For others, like my middle child and myself, it means we shy away from it due to fear of failure. I am so grateful for my husband who is always quick to remind my boys to believe in themselves. If he hears self doubt in their words, he is quick to correct them by replacing their negative words with positive ones and making them repeat after him.

There are kids who instinctively have less fear of failure and more drive. Whether it is a competitive nature that feeds it or a need to be the best. My middle guy is more sensitive in that way. He is aware of not wanting to take away from others. As I explained to him, there is a time and place for that. Individual goals mean that you don’t have to take away from anyone else. As I write this, it is so clear that individual goals would have been the way to motivate him from the start. It is in his nature to achieve on a individual level where he doesn’t feel the pressure of competing with anyone else.

This simple, ten minute talk with my eight year old taught me so much, in more ways than one. It taught me about him, myself and my parenting. It reminded me why it is so important to be in tune with my boys. It also reminded me of the joys and beauty of being a parent. My husband and I will support our boys in the best way we know how. We will make mistakes and so will they, but as long as we keep the lines of communication open and the love flowing, we will design these blank canvases together. Love to heaven…

The Best Christmas Gift

It’s been a while since I have written. I haven’t felt like myself lately. The holidays this year have heightened my grief and anxiety. It’s not this intense every year. Thank God.

Tomorrow is Christian’s birthday. He would have been 11. The usual questions about what he would look like? Act like? Be asking for as birthday and Christmas gifts? continuously flood my brain and heart. I want him here. Sure he would be driving me crazy. He would be one more child fighting with his brothers. His attitude would probably be growing in size since he would officially be a middle schooler. I am guessing his hair would be a focus. He had the most beautiful head of hair. So many guesses. So much wondering. So many dreams turned to angel dust. In a matter of moments.

All of the wondering gets to be exhausting and overwhelming. The memories aren’t any less emotional but at least they don’t involve guessing. Christian was due on Christmas but was born on December 23rd. We brought him home Christmas Day. As first time parents my husband and I woke to find a beautiful baby boy being rolled in to the hospital room on Christmas morning. He was all snug and sleeping in an oversized stocking. It’s the same stocking that hangs on our mantle each year. The sight was so breathtaking and life changing. This little being would be coming home with us in just hours.

As we made our way home we passed our church. The priest had just finished Christmas mass and was outside. We asked him to bless Christian and he did. One would think a child who is blessed only moments after leaving the hospital would be destined for greatness and safety. The first yes and the second no; at least not in the way we were hoping. We could never conceive of what was to come in his life.

As Christian grew, we grew. Firstborn children teach their parents multiple lessons. Christian was not the best sleeper. He didn’t follow any of the examples of the types of babies they talked about in parenting books. The feeling of failing as a mom plagued me. These feelings not entirely unusual for a first time mom, but confusing nonetheless. One thing that was not confusing, even when I was sleep deprived, was how much I loved him. Again, as the firstborn, every little thing he did made my heart swell ten times. As much as I love my other boys it was different with them because it wasn’t my first time experiencing it.

As his personality developed his mischief did too. This was always a character trait I loved in little boys. As a mom to a mischievous boy it was still adorable but tried my patience!! Now I had to somehow figure out how to refine it without completely making it go away. This did not help my own issue of feeling like I was failing as a mom. When you have a child who does not conform to how others think he or she should behave it can be mortifying. Others make it known by looks, words and glances that your child is behaving poorly. There have been many times I witnessed this in a store and offered words of comfort to the parent instead of the opposite. As much as we love our children, it doesn’t ever feel great to be judged negatively by others.

Christian was not only mischievous but he was a biter! Oh yes he wanted to help me experience it all in his six short years of life. At a mommy and me class he bit a little boy on the back. The mother was not happy but seeing as this was her fourth child, I am sure she had encountered a similar situation before. Her dirty looks and unkind words said otherwise. We made it through. Christian eventually received Occupational Therapy during his preschool years. It definitely helped. Oddly enough I got a call from his therapist the second week she was supposed to see him. She had to cancel because she lost her son suddenly. Heartbreaking. Christian continued on with another wonderful therapist and they were able to make headway with some of his behaviors.

Christian’s larger than life personality was never able to be truly tamed. I wouldn’t have wanted it to be. There were times I wished he would tone it down just a little. He definitely did a lot of living in his short time on Earth. I always say he did everything 100%. All his mischief and love and passion and hugs and smiles and tantrums were at level 100! I’m not sure how we were chosen to be his parents. It’s something we are forever grateful for.

Tomorrow will mark his fifth birthday in heaven. No one should have to celebrate the day their child was born without their child here. We are not alone in this, unfortunately. Tuesday will mark his fifth Christmas in heaven. He is sure to be leading some giant celebration up there! His party in heaven will be mirrored in the smiles, joy and excitement on the faces of my children and nieces as they celebrate the magic of Christmas. It will help to buoy my mood but it will not take the pain away. The longing will remain for the best Christmas gift I ever received. Love to heaven…

Ramblings and Gifts

It’s that time of year again when the air is filled with the magic of the holidays… and the sadness for some. I’m not alone in my struggles and I do not wish to put a damper on anyone who is not feeling sadness. However, I know that there are millions of other people out there struggling as well. Some for the same reason, some not. I don’t have any words of wisdom today. More a rambling of thoughts.

This was an exceptionally tough week. My cousin, Tonia, would have turned 50. It had me reflecting on her and a trip all of the females in my family took when she turned 40. The first thing that comes to mind are the laughs we all shared. We had a great time. It was a beautiful tribute to what the holidays represent to me – enjoying time with those you love. Tonia bought each of us an ornament to commemorate the trip. It will be bittersweet, as it is every Christmas, to place that ornament on my tree.

Last week was also an emotional week. My youngest son turned six. All of the “firsts” he is experiencing as a six year old were Christian’s “lasts”. To use a very intellectual term blah. Each time I think about that the tears spring to my eyes. He seems so little and yet Christian seemed so big when he was six. I found the list he wrote to Santa that year. Immediately my memory sparked. My bright, brown eyed boy wishing for the magic of Christmas to be bestowed upon him. His heart so young and pure. The excitement of the season buzzing all around. This year as his brothers write their Christmas lists, search for the elf and decorate the tree, Christian watches from above.

Grief is a spiral and sometimes it spirals back to an intensity level that can only be sustained for a short amount of time. When this happens I retreat back to survival mode. One of the most important things I did early on, in survival mode, was find one positive thing in each day. Yesterday while preparing lunches for my boys and running around, completing daily morning tasks, they were playing a game. It was a beautiful sight. They were playing and laughing. No one was whining or crying. Whoever was losing was not lamenting over it. They were enjoying their time together. It was a gift. It could have easily been missed by me in my frenzy. I’m sure sometimes I do overlook these moments. Yesterday I didn’t and it made my day. Wishing you all these beautiful gifts of the season and all year through. Love to heaven…

Unconditional Love

Thanksgiving and the holidays are a time for reflection. We remember special days of the past. We look forward to future days to come. My memories are peppered with holidays from my youth, filled with magic. I strive to create the same feeling for my children.

I want them to feel excitement, warmth and the abundance of love shared with family and friends. At the same time I want them to learn how to give warmth and love. It’s important for them to know how to express these emotions.

It’s also important for them to know how to give to those who are not as fortunate to experience an abundance of warmth and love. They have the compassion and strength to help create this for some people. My boys need to know that this is part of their calling. I believe we all have this compassion and strength within us. For my children, given the sadness they know, it’s even more important. They must know that there are people who experience tragedies even worse than what they have gone through. They also must know that there are people who are more fortunate.

Christian continues to teach and guide us through our lives, as individuals and family. He wants and needs us to spread love, compassion and kindness. My boys know that I love them always and forever. It is unconditional acceptance and love. If I can teach them to spread this type of love, I believe they will make a marked difference in this world. Love to heaven…

Emotional Ramifications of Song Lyrics

Music is a universal language. It can change one’s mood instantly. For some it is part of their daily self care repertoire. Both playing and listening to music have tremendous value and affect emotional states. Mona Lisa Chanda, PhD, found that music improves the body’s immune system function and reduces stress. Listening to music was also found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, April, 2013). The positive effect musics has on us is evident.

The power of music lies in its strength to influence. Society, especially young adults, tend to take the lyrics of songs and internalize them. If the lyrics are relatable and the artist identifies with feeling pain and persevering through, it is a positive influence for the listener.

The issue emerges when the lyrics are not so positive. Most recently the song, “Psycho” by Post Malone has reached the top of the charts. It is played multiple times a day. The tune is catchy and I often find myself singing along, until one certain line. Every time I hear the line, “Had so many bottles, gave ugly girl a sip”, I cringe. As a forty year old woman who has struggled with self confidence all my life, this line angers me. I have lived through enough to know that our appearances are not the most important thing in life. My concern is for the younger listeners.

Listeners with low self confidence and fragile egos are susceptible to being pulled down even further. To a young girl who struggles with body image, these words are damaging. If she is already hearing negative voices about her own appearance, she is very likely to internalize this. Of course the lyrics are not expressly directed at her. Nonetheless the message is that ugly girls don’t deserve the same as pretty girls. Post Malone’s message is that the “ugly girl” got a sip because he “had so many bottles”. This sends the message to girls who perceive themselves as ugly that they are not enough.

An individual who already has negative self talk occurring in his or her head does not need any more fuel to feed the fire. The lyrics from Post Malone’s song only add more fuel. In addition, the popularity of the song means hearing it multiple times a day, adding to the frequency of negative thoughts. In the article, The Toxic Effects Of Negative Self Talk, Elizabeth Scott, MS states, “Studies have linked negative self-talk with higher levels of stress and lower levels of self-esteem. This can lead to decreased motivation as well as greater feelings of helplessness. This type of critical inner dialogue has even been linked to depression“.

While the issue truly lies inside the one whose perception is making her feel this way, it does not benefit anyone to perpetuate these feelings. Freedom of speech and expression is important but just as we censor out curse words for the general listening public we may need to examine other degrading phrases as well. This may sound extra sensitive to some readers but if you have ever had any experience with an eating disorder, someone dealing with depression or someone who is suicidal, the idea of censoring offensive lyrics would be more appealing.

Music weaves it’s way into the soul. When it is uplifting and beautiful so are its effects. When it includes negative messages, its effects are negative. So many of us struggle with body image. It is ultimately the individual’s responsibility to work through these issues. If we can avoid furthering these issues and adding to them with simple general listener censoring, it will benefit society. Love to heaven…

Hope Is Essential For Broken Hearts

Missing you today. Wishing things were different in so many ways. Tired of feeling like I am fighting the current of life so hard. These feelings will pass. I’ve been told, and learned from experience, that no feeling lasts forever. These aren’t my feelings all the time, but today they are.

Maybe it was all the joy and excitement of yesterday. Maybe it’s the start of the “holiday season”. Maybe it’s that we are about to celebrate another family milestone without you this weekend. I don’t know. All I know is that if you were here, yesterday would have been very different. It’s hard to believe I would have a ten year old boy.

After the raucous celebrations and vibrant costumes of yesterday it is time for some peace and quiet for my heart. The stark contrast from yesterday to today in the weather even echoes melancholic emotions. Just like the weather will not stay the same, neither will my strictly melancholy feelings. I repeat this because it offers me hope.

Sitting in my emotions and processing them is essential. Hope is also essential. While I feel my feelings, experience them and process them, I also need to know they won’t be forever. It is so intense when grief floods me. If the intensity was always like this, I wouldn’t be able to function.

I miss you. This is something I feel every day. Today it just hurts more. I wish things were different in so many ways. Love to heaven…

Freedom In Sharing Faults

We all have faults. Some of us are better than others at accepting our faults or shortcomings. Some of us have a more difficult time. I fall into the latter category. It is easier for me to accept other’s faults than my own. I am kinder to others than myself when the topic of personal faults comes up. I’m not alone.

No one is perfect. How many times have we heard that old adage? We hear it repeatedly because it’s true. Yet so many of us strive for perfection or close to it in ourselves. When our shortcomings present themselves we feel disappointed and angry. Many times for me this turns into shame and then the mean voices begin. I wish I could tell you how to make those stop. That is still a work in progress for me. What I can tell you is that sharing and connecting with others helps in quieting those voices.

Healing is in our own heart’s message. Once we hear it we can surround ourselves with people who reflect that message. Share your pain. Healing is in connection.             – Cara Martinisi

It’s no secret that I wear my heart on my sleeve. My writing is proof of that. I don’t believe this kind of sharing or level of sharing is for everyone. I do believe that opening up to another human being who you feel a deep level of connection and comfortability with will change your life. I don’t mean opening up about the difficulties you have on the surface. That’s great too, and we all need that, but when we go deeper in our relationships, friendships and connections that is when your faults and shortcomings lose the momentum to instill shame.

Shedding the shame of our faults and learning to make peace with them can only make us better people. Connecting, beautiful soul connections, only enrich our lives. Many times when I ask Christian what message he wants me to share with everyone it revolves around kindness and connection. There is something there. The more connected we are to each other, the more kindness spreads.

Connection to others lets us know that we are all important. Children are more visibly receptive to this than adults, but that is only because they are more open. Engage a child and see how their face changes. When we take interest in each other’s lives we are interwoven emotionally. This is valuable on all levels. It is important to connect casually, deeper and so deep that your soul shines through. Connection promotes kindness. Kindness helps us to be nicer to ourselves and those around us. If you want to quiet your mean voices, if  you want to take away the shame associated with your shortcomings, connecting will help. Love to heaven…