Archive | parenting

Scooby Doo, Life, and the Joys of Parenting

This was one of my daughter’s favorite films

“Mommy,” my daughter asked one night on the phone. “Can you tell me a Scooby Doo story that you make up?” I groaned. Making up a Scooby Doo story is not terribly hard — there are elements which are sure to repeat in every tale — but making one up still requires concentration and energy. It was 9pm, and her phone call had dragged me out of bed. Not my most creative and imaginative time. Despite that, I sat back in my rocking chair and began: “One day Scooby, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Fred went mushroom picking in the forest….”

As the tale unfolded, I added in all the expected twists and turns: a ghost appeared warning the friends away, Velma lost her glasses, Fred ran away in terror without looking out for the girls, Shaggy and Scooby required two Scooby Snacks in order to become bait, the trap the friends set up failed, and Scooby and Shaggy accidentally trapped the villain while attempting to ran away. In the end, after exposing the ghost (it turned out to be Red Riding Hood), the friends went together to eat mushroom pizza.

I told the story and smiled to myself. It occurred to me that a Scooby Doo story is not that different from life. Am I not often warned away by mysterious fears? Do I not bumble about most of each day feeling near-sighted or blind? Embarrassingly, I can think of occasions where I (metaphorically) ran away without assisting someone under my care, and chocolate is without doubt my most effective motivator in any situation in life. When I succeed in solving whichever mystery I struggled under for days, it is almost always by stumbling on the solution and after making a lot of mistakes, and I’ll always consider eating pizza (not forgetting my gluten/dairy free restrictions) the very best finale.

GF/DF pizza

Taking my reflections even farther, a Scooby Doo story can be a metaphor for parenting as well, and as such it offers me great comfort. Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Velma and Daphne always have the very best intentions. They are there to support those in need, solve mysteries, and expose fears for what they really are. Not that different from the work of a parent. Perhaps the gang does bungle most every thing they touch, but in the end, they are still somehow successful, and good intentions triumph over evil ones.

As a parent, I stumble in the dark more often than not. The only real tools I can depend on are my good intentions and the love that I bear for the kids. Scooby Doo gives me hope that those will be enough. “Those meddling kids!” The villains always complain at the end. “Those meddling parents!” My kids might say. But I hope that in time, over the course of their lives, they will end up appreciating what I’ve done, remember the good intentions and not the mistakes, and continue the tradition by enjoying their very own families, pizza, and Scooby Doo fun

Messing Up

Lately, I’ve been trying to encourage my kids to mess up. “Messing up is the best thing you can do, and making mistakes is the only way to learn,” I preached to Eden who cried after forgetting to do her homework. She threw me a deservedly suspicious look. My sermon was another example of the famous “Do as I say, not as I do.” “Be quiet, Ima,” the child said. Perhaps the wisest words heard that day.

How I wish to be always perfect, patient, polite, empathic, wise, thoughtful and kind. Never yell at the kids, never make a mistake, always treat other human beings with patience and respect. How I wish each of my actions and words came from the heart, out of love and compassion and trust.

The perfect imperfection of nature

Why is it so much easier to be kinder to another person than to myself? I look at Eden’s forgetfulness of her homework and see it as a path to growth, a lucky break from which she can learn so much. But when I make a mistake, especially if it is about the kids or my writing, it is an earth-shattering disaster, a trauma unlikely ever to be healed, a case for putting more money in my savings jar for the psychiatrist, the horrible, terrible end.

In The Willpower Instinct, Dr. Kelly McGonigal writes about research that shows that people are less likely to repeat their mistakes if they are treated with compassion. Subjects of an experiment who were told not to worry about their candy consumption, because everyone sometimes eats too much, ate fewer pieces than their counterparts who were not given the reassuring message. It takes so little, it seems, to make us feel happier, loved and secure. It takes so little, just a few words, to make us remember to cling to our higher self’s dreams and goals.

But how to change habits of a lifetime? I am so used to dance to my inner Critic’s music that I can barely hear any tune other than his. Even trying to talk to the Critic seems to fail. A long list of grievances spews from his lips, and as I listen to him, I find myself questioning myself: Could he be right? Am I really like this?

“If I don’t push you, you will never do anything,” the Critic says. And it seems to me to be true. And yet I wonder: what if he could learn to push with compassion? What if instead of criticisms, he could provide gentle, empathic reminders? Seems to me my Critic and I have a lot in common. We both of us wish to be more patient and kind. Perhaps, if I could forgive him his messes, he could forgive me mine? Perhaps if we joined hands, something, finally, can be done?

To all of this joins another desire: to be an example to my children. To be able to say, “Do as I do.” I would love for them to grow up criticism-free. And perhaps, with that, as with everything else, I need to remember: don’t worry, everyone messes up. It’s the best learning way.

Holding On to Letting Go

Last night, as I was getting ready to go to sleep, an overwhelming sense of dread and loss crept over me. I paused, trying to analyze what precisely was scaring me, and discovered to my surprise that I was stressing, thirty-six hours in advance, about Wednesday morning when the children go, as they always do, to spend their allocated days with their father.

Nearly eight years have passed since the divorce, but the anxiety over my time without the children returns at regular intervals, usually on Tuesday, the day before they are to leave. Wednesdays, after dropping them off at school, I walk around the house like a ghost, not quite knowing what to do with myself. There seems to be no reason to cook, which I suppose is understandable, but why do I not use this “free” time to write, paint, garden, or — the fairies save me — have fun?

Every week I ask myself the same question: why can’t I just let go? The custody arrangement is not about to change, and it is high time to accept that and move on. And yet, somehow, it is my very identity as a mother that is in a crisis. I cannot be a mother only half of the week, but how am I a mother during the days when the children are not with me?

Parenting and life itself, it seems to me, are made up of letting-go bumps. The moment of birth and the cutting of the umbilical cord. Weaning and moving to solid foods. Sleep training. A nanny. Preschool. Kindergarten. The first playdate without mommy, then the first party without mommy. Overnight field trips. Overnight camp. Puberty. And before us, always, the scariest moment, the end of high school, the beginning of college. Soon, they will be moving away, perhaps to the other side of the world, finding a partner, getting married, having their own children. And us no longer needed. And soon, gone.

I cheer myself up by saying that letting go is a life-long endeavor. I look ahead, and I can see that my road leads me straight toward these bumps. No matter how much I twist and turn, how much I struggle or try to avoid a particular bump, life relentlessly pushes me on, forcing me into greater and greater letting go’s.

This morning, before school, Eden and I listened to music together. I felt the warmth of her little body against mine, admired how big she got, how long her legs and arms, how cute her little nose is, and the sparkle in her eyes. The next moment I was walking her to school, getting a brief hug. And then I was alone. No matter how hard I try, there is no way to stop the clock. I find myself holding on to these wonderful moments of connection, forcing myself to remember to let go of all but the memory once they are gone.

The Case of the Brussels Sprout Soup

On Monday I made Brussels sprout soup. We ate the soup for dinner with mixed results. Dar and I loved it. Uri was ambivalent but finished his bowl. Eden said that the soup looked disgusting. I got her to take a tiny sip by telling her that I’m sure the soup doesn’t taste as bad as she thinks it does. She tasted, spit out, and said only: “It does.”

When we got back home on Tuesday. Uri requested that I heat a bowl of the soup for him. I was busy prepping for dinner and suggested that he get the soup out of the fridge and heat some for himself. He is twelve, after all, and knows how to use the microwave. But Uri wanted me to get him the soup. He nagged, stomped his feet, told me I was a bad mother, complained that he was dying of hunger, and finally stalked off to his clarinet lesson with many an accusatory glance. After the lesson, weighed with guilt, I heated him some soup.

Parenting experts often say that a mother (or father) should not do for the children what the children can do for themselves. These experts would probably be appalled by the amount of indulgence going on at my house. I twist water bottle caps open for the kids, bring them clothes to bed, wake them up in the morning, make them breakfast, lunch and dinner, help with homework, carry Eden’s backpack to school, and I always, always, bring forgotten lunches, projects, homework folders, and jackets to school.

Every once in a while, as in the case of the Brussels sprout soup, I try to stand up for myself, thinking that I might teach the children some independence and self reliance. And as in the case of the Brussels sprout soup, more often than not the result is total failure. On Tuesday, for example, I found myself guilty that the child had his clarinet lesson without food and then guilty for giving in and heating up the soup.

Wendy Mogel, in her fabulous parenting book Blessings of a Skinned Knee, suggests that calling a family meeting and announcing that “things are going to change here from now on” is not the way to implement change. Instead of drastic reorganizations, it might be better to make subtle changes.

In recent months, I taught the kids how to use the microwave, make themselves a bagel with cream cheese, and put clothes in the laundry machine and the dryer. They’ve also began to do homework much more independently than before. True, I have more failures than successes in my attempts to get them to become contributing members of our small family community, but the general direction is good. I am hopeful that by the time they go to college, they will at least have an idea of how to wash their own clothes. Perhaps they’ll eat more than just take-out pizza, and (to quote an amusing example from parenting expert Madeline Levine), they won’t feel that they need to call me in order to find out where their next class is.

Brussels Sprout Soup Recipe

One pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and with the top leaves removed
One onion, diced
One large potato, cut into cubes
One zucchini, diced
Garlic to taste, sliced
About 4-6 cups of vegetable soup broth, just enough to cover the vegetables

Sauté the onion and garlic till caramelized.
Add Brussels sprout and diced zucchini and pour in vegetable broth till covered.
Let boil and then cook for 20 minutes until the Brussels sprouts are soft.
Mash together till smooth in the blender and return to pot.
Cut the potato to cubes and add to soup, let it boil again and cook for 30 minutes till the potato cubes are soft. Stir every few minutes to make sure the potatoes do not sink and stick to the bottom of the pot.


For more on this topic:
Wendy Mogel’s Myths about Raising Self Reliant Children
Madeline Levine’s Website

Recognizing Resilience

Don’t worry, be happy!

A few days ago, a friend came up to me while we waited for the kids in the schoolyard. He’s been going through a tough time lately, getting a divorce from his wife of many years. We stood for a while as he told me about how hard for him was the separation from the kids, from his wife, and from mutual friends who have been choosing sides. I felt a lot of empathy for him, and, wishing to cheer him up, I told him that divorce is considered one of the most difficult things people go through in life. “After you go through this,” I said, “you’ll be able to handle anything else in life.”

My friend smiled half-heartedly, not consoled, but for me the world paused and (metaphorically) tilted on its axis. My own words struck me with incredible force. Wait a second, I thought, didn’t I also go through divorce?

I do not see myself as an especially resilient person, or rather, perhaps I should say, I am more of a worrier, an anxiety-monger. Some fears, especially late at night, strike me with an unbearable, overwhelming dread: losing the children, Dar, or my parents, sickness, and plane crushes. And one thing is clear to me: if it happens, I will not be able to survive. Many other fears hover around me, and though smaller than death, they do not feel at all small. I am worried about the children’s social and intellectual success at school, my parenting mistakes, the dogs, the chickens, and more.

Worrying about these, I suppose, means that I think there is something I can do about them, solutions, even if I don’t know exactly what those solutions are. And so every once in a while I get very overwhelmed by all this responsibility of keeping everyone healthy and happy and well, and I find myself (though not threatened by any danger to life) living in survival mode and under a lot of unnecessary stress.

But wait a second, I too went through divorce, one of the most difficult things people can go through in life. And according to my own words to my friend, that means I can now handle anything else. So… does surviving divorce really mean that perhaps I do have some resilience, some ability to survive other difficulties in life? In a potential Hunger Game situation, could I find that I would not, after all, be the first to die?

To tell the truth, I’m not entirely excited about my potential for survival because I want to be clear with God: no more of this suffering stuff, ok? I want the kids and Dar to be healthy and happy and well, my parents to grow healthy to a very old age, my friends and my family as well. So perhaps I’m resilient, so what? There’s no need to test if it’s true. Let the sun shine all over us today and everyday. On you too.

Matters of Opinion

My recent haircut garnered lots of attention. My daughter flew out of the classroom, her eyes wide with appreciation, “Hello beautiful woman!” she exclaimed. My son took one look: “Why did you do that?” he asked. “It looks terrible.” Other moms stopped, pointed to their hair and mine and smiled. Dar said: “It looks great.” And an unnamed someone pronounced: “Too many highlights.”

When first I saw my new cut, I loved it. But that first, pure, unadulterated enjoyment in my new hair dimmed under the heaping commentary. I began to wonder: Does the cut make me look older? Should I have kept my hair longer? Do the highlights look artificial? A bad haircut is serious business. As an unhappy customer who once had a second haircut on the same day in order to salvage a horrid first one, I would not think to downplay the importance of even a single hair. But in the end, as I find myself face to face with my reflection in the looking glass, I can shut out everyone’s opinions and decide: I look okay.

Nowhere do other people’s opinions seem to matter more than in my parenting. Every day I ask myself: Am I a good parent? Do I make good parenting choices? My questions, sadly, rarely get answered in my heart. The children’s opinions, my parents’ words, friends’ comments, even the looks of strangers all affect my perception of my decisions and actions.

Not surprisingly, Uri and Eden have opinions about my parenting. “You yell all the time,” is a common complaint. “You’re always impatient.” “You don’t make us good food” is a particularly dreaded grievance. I care about their opinion of my parenting. After all, they are the main beneficiaries (or in their opinion, victims) of it. They are the ones who will need to see a psychologist for years to come in order to undo the damage my well-meaning but disastrous mistakes engender.

And yet, I doubt that the children (or my parents, friends, and strangers) are the best judges of my parenting. The children, caught in the transitory and yet all-encompassing moment-to-moment childhood life, cannot appreciate the big picture, the bigger plan, the one in which I am hoping that they will turn into healthy, self-sufficient, independent adults. The unsuspecting strangers in the grocery store cannot appreciate my bigger plan either, the one in which the tantrum-engrossed candy-deprived child lives to be 95 with all her teeth intact. And my parents, no matter how much they care, still live at their own house and only see part of the picture, and even that is colored by their own parenting hopes, regrets, and dreams.

Still, when a friend tells me that I am a marvelous parent, my heart sings. When the children criticize me, I wish to crawl under the bed and disappear. But somewhere deep in my heart I know that I am doing the best that I can, and I have to trust that love is enough. That, and putting a dollar or two in the savings account for future psychologists. After all, it is best to be prepared. I consider it insurance for a satisfactory life.

Life with a Light Laugh

I take myself too seriously. I take my writing seriously, my parenting seriously, my exercise routine seriously. I analyze my mistakes in all areas of life seriously. What have I done wrong? Why have I gone wrong? And most important of all: how can I fix it? Heaven forbid that I should make the same mistake twice! And if the fix for a problem has not worked — I tremble to think of the consequences to my state of mind.

It’s like having a judge next door who works around the clock to give his opinion: what I’ve done well, what I’ve done wrong, and how my solutions are working. This judge is ingrained in me, ever willing to step up and pick up responsibility for evaluating my performance. He never sleeps, never pauses, is ever alert and ready for business.

I like to think that I get along well with my judge. He (yes, he is male) pronounces his opinion as to my laziness, my failures, my inactivity, and I return the favor by becoming depressed and not doing anything whatsoever. If he’s going to be so difficult about every little thing I do or say, why, in all the fairies’ names, should I even bother?

In the past few weeks, however, I started a conversation with the judge. Perhaps if he stopped pushing so hard, there will be room for me to write, grow, laugh. Turns out that the judge is quite willing. I never knew how much he longed for me to have the freedom to do. “I feel so frustrated,” he says. “I just want you to fly, to reach the sky, for your writing to flow.” He looks at me, confused rather than critical, almost ashamed of himself. “I don’t know where it all went wrong,” he says.

Fortunately, at this juncture, my friend Rebecca came for a visit. We decided that since we were having a girlfriend to girlfriend, heart to heart talk, there is no better place for us to sit than the treehouse. The sky slowly darkened as we laughed and shared stories. Moths fluttered about our heads. The grasses crinkled, and I thought deer might be near. I felt happier than I have felt in a long time.

Life is not a one-key door, nor a treasure chest with seven different locks. The keys to life come at random, when we are ready, fitting the keyhole with an unexpected precision and serendipity. And last night, sitting and chatting in the tree house, Rebecca gave me a key that was just right for what I am dealing with now.

“My teacher, Chophel,” Rebecca said, “always says: ‘We are all wrong. We might as well take ourselves lightly.’”

To laugh at myself is perhaps the greatest lesson I wish to learn, to take myself lightly. Next time I get all serious, critical, and dramatic about my life, please remind me that I’m all wrong. That it’s just so much better to take a breath, and let it out in a laugh, lightly.

Take a breath and admit that you’re all wrong. Laugh about it.  Take yourself lightly.

The Creative Zone

The creative geyser — must release the pressure

The last two weeks have been tough. My days, thoughts, my sleeping hours, were consumed by stress: I wanted an answer for what was bothering me. I wanted it now. And I wanted it to be the best. I found myself bursting into tears whenever anyone offered a kind word. I cannot tell you what my problem was. Perhaps it is enough to say it was related to parenting and to wanting to parent well.

From below the chaos, Perspective would touch my shoulder with its light hand, reminding me: “Be grateful. You are healthy. The children and Dar are healthy. They are happy and they love you. You are all together. Concentrate on what’s good, and more good will come.” In my heart I knew this was true, but then the moment of gratitude would pass, and fears would take over, and the ever-relentless drive to find a solution now.

Lacking peace of mind, my creative zone zoned out. Unable to compete with worries, it became dormant, hiding below layers and layers of protective parts. This time, however, sleeping through the chaos was not enough. The Critic directed my thoughts away from writing by asserting: “You will never be a writer. It’s never going to happen for you. You better give up.”

I’ve been listening to Tolstoy’s War and Peace. “You will never write this well,” said the Critic. “I have no need to write like Tolstoy,” I argued. “Only Tolstoy could write like himself.” The critic scoffed: “You will never be able to create a world like this. You will never be able to create a story of so many characters, so real, so colorful, so simple at the same time.”

The Critic looted every coin of confidence, burnt every standing wall, painted graffiti over my most treasured pavements. Instead of resting till the storm passed over, my creativity found herself engaged in a survival war. “Is it true?” She asked in a timid voice. “Is it really over?” And then, as though disappearing into herself: “Why do I exist at all?”

No matter how often I affirm that I am a writer, still doubts and fears assail me. I turn on the computer, my fingers trembling, eager and yet afraid to pull my document up on the screen. A huge weight settles on me. I am unable to begin. Then I remember. In the beginning was the word. I type a single letter, and then another, and suddenly, without knowing how or why, what or where, I am sitting here and writing again.


Blooming into beauty — simply and easily

I still search for the answer to that parenting question I mentioned, but perhaps for now the crisis is over. I can raise my head over the storm and find perspective, allow the Critic to calm down, listen to my Creativity hum as it goes about its business, and let my fingers move over the keyboard, bringing my fairy tale world to life.

What do you do to quiet the Critic? How do you keep your creativity free to work its magic?

The Price of Passion

Uri’s main competition for my love.

Writers often claim that they write because they must. Why else would we write? Riches and fame, after all, are rarely the results. I have struggled with the inexplicable need to write for at least ten years, writing in bursts and sinking into doom and gloom when no writing comes. Having noticed the connection between not writing and my bouts of depression, I’ve made an effort to get some writing time every day. I channel my creativity into the blog when the novel seems too complicated an endeavor, and I’ve come to realize that the feeling I called depression was actually frustration in disguise.

Realizing how important writing is to me was only one tiny step. Ahead loomed a greater obstacle, so great, in fact, that terrified and ashamed, for a long time I preferred not to look it in the face. Even now, it seems to me both a ridiculous and crucial obstacle: my all-important mother-hood. Turns out that after all these years, I still doubt that I can be a mother and a writer at the same time.

My imagination, my creativity press on the dam of fears I’d built, lashing against it, trying to force a way out. When I write, I often don’t hear the children talking to me. I forget to tell them to go to sleep or to make them food. What will happen if I let all the passion of writing out from behind the carefully controlled dam? What if writing and novels and ideas will come rushing out in a great flood, overcoming everything? Will the mother mountain stay intact?

Yesterday my son accused me, “You love your book more than you love me.” I burst out laughing. I spend so much energy on being afraid that the kids will suffer because of my writing, and here he is blaming me for exactly what I fear the most. Except, he wasn’t talking about my novel, the one I am writing. He was talking about the ultra fascinating and unputdownable Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.

Okay, so I admit that yesterday I was reading Bitterblue instead of playing with him lacrosse. And I was reading Bitterblue instead of paying him attention. And I was reading Bitterblue in the doctor’s office while we waited though he had nothing to do. But in one moment, with those funny and yet truthful words, Uri gave me glimpse of perspective about my great parenting-writing fear. Just a glimpse, mind you.

I have a feeling that if I let the dam loose the mother mountain will still stand safe and sure. I have a feeling that if I stop putting on the break with my writing, I will have more energy to spend both on my writing and the kids. And I have a feeling that it’s good for the kids to know that there’s more to their mother than just being a mother. It’s just a feeling. But I think perhaps it’s true.

Do you have a passion in your life, that makes you oblivious to the rest of the world?

Legitimizing Writing Time

Here I am, sitting on an airplane flying thirty thousand feet above a sea of clouds. The sun is just rising in the horizon, an orangy-yellow presence outside the oval plane window. I am flying to Los Angeles, where, for the next three days, I will attend the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Yesterday I was all mother. For the next three days I get to be all writer, guilt-free.

Guilt defines much of who I am. Since the children spend only half of the week with me, I want to give them my entire attention when they are around. Partly I do this to make up for not being there the other half of the week, and partly because I want to give them so much, but I don’t have enough time. My writing, therefore, takes second place (or even third and fourth) when the children are around.

A writers’ conference, however, is a different story. It sounds so…, well, so legitimate, so important. It sounds real! Engineers, teachers, people with real jobs go to conferences. And once in a while so do I. I go to the conference and feel that I’m doing something to further my career. I’m making contacts, deepening my knowledge of the business of writing and publishing. Then, after three days of taking myself seriously, I go back home to writing on a desk surrounded by pecking chickens, barking dogs, and attention-deprived children.

The quiet before the storm — conference main room

The truth is that at home I doubt the legitimacy of my writing. I minimize my computer time when the children are around so as not to encourage them to spend time on their computers as well. Except, here’s what makes no sense about this: I am not playing on the computer or watching a teen series with too-beautiful photo-shopped young people. I am working! I am writing, and someday someone will want to read what I write. Right?

Am I working, or am I playing around? Am I indulging in a hobby which might never become a job? Certainly, I don’t treat writing as a job. I do not sit at my desk 9 to 5. And if part of the definition of a job is that it earns the worker money, then I am not exactly up to standard in that. I do what I love, and I feel privileged and grateful to be able to do that. But with an inexplicable fear of what others, my children included, will say, I don’t follow my writing ambitions, yet, with the same single-minded sense of purpose that I do other goals of my life. Motherhood, for example.

My son tells me: “Why are you on the computer all the time?” “Blogging,” he answers his own question, and a tone of hurt (or is it contempt?) sneaks into his voice. Once again I realize how important it is for me to feel the legitimacy of my writing, make room for WRITER in my definition of self. It’s ok, I think, frightening though it is for me to say, not to be 100% mother all the time. I wonder what will happen when I stop being afraid of being more than mother, and give myself permission to feel sometimes all writer inside….

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109