26 May 2011
"You can only lose what you cling to."
"Some of us think holding on makes us strong;
but sometimes it is letting go."
Last night, I was invited to sit in on a women’s book group that had chosen to read Syd Arthur for this month’s book selection. Two of the main themes that emerged were the seeking of balance in life, and the idea of letting go. Just like Syd Arthur, the protagonist of my book, and myself, these women are mothers. Regardless of the ages of the children, the women spoke of the challenges of finding the balance between taking care of their children and taking care of themselves, and of the tension in knowing when to be a “hands on” mother and a “hands off.”
I think these two ideas of seeking balance and of letting go are intricately related. I don’t believe they can be taught as much as they can be experienced by each person, and on their own terms.
I remember my first lesson about letting go. It occurred when I was just about 11 years old. It was the first time I had tried water skiing, and the young man who had taken me out on his boat explained that I was to hold on to the towrope and I would be just fine. I remember I was scared, and I clung to his words as well as the rope.
But I took it to the extreme. I fell, and rather than let go, I held on as I painfully flew across the water on my belly, trying to understand the shouts from the boat. Finally, I understood what they were screaming to me: Let go!
When our daughter was young, my husband and I spent many weekends trying to teach her to ride a bike. I say many because despite the training wheels, this was turning out to be much harder for her than we had expected. But then, some weeks into me running at her side while gripping on to the handlebars as she peddled with her training wheels, a neighbor of mine stood quietly on the curb watching. I smiled at my neighbor and said that eventually our daughter would get the hang of this. I remember our neighbor pulling me aside and saying, “Ellen, it’s not your daughter’s problem, it’s yours. You’re holding her back by holding on to the bicycle. She’ll never be able to learn to ride if you hold her back by not letting her go.”
She was right. Not only about the bicycle, but also about life. I’ve been listening to graduation stories this week. Not just of high school and college graduations, but “moving on” ceremonies from the elementary schools too. In the endings are beginnings, and in the beginnings are endings too. Our challenge is to be in the moment of transition and to let both aspects wash over us; the end of what was, and the birth of what’s new. One of the best teachers of this? Our own breath. Every inhalation of taking in, is followed by an exhalation of letting out. It is this breathing that keeps us alive, and also instructs us how to live: take in, let go, take in, let go.
The first act of motherhood itself is a letting go. In labor, we work so hard to push that baby out, to hear its cry to life. The umbilical cord is cut, and we let go. The end and the beginning.
Both parent and child are no longer connected by physicality but by deep and loving bonds. And therein lies the challenge many of the women spoke of last night in the book group. Of how, in some ways, they press the pause button on the remote control of their lives to be present for their young children. But I asked the question of whether it’s necessary to press pause, and in the end, is it beneficial to our children and ourselves?
For a while, when our daughter was young, I thought I was proving that I was a good mother by pressing my pause button. I thought I should be at her call 24/7. One day, I excitedly joined a gym, and was planning on dropping Allie off at a friend’s house while I took an aerobics class (this was in the early nineties and aerobics was the rage). Driving in the car on the way home from errands and anticipating the class, I continued to talk to my darling two-year-old in the car seat. “So mommy is going to just park the car….” And that was it for me. She heard the word “park” and thought it meant we were going to the park. She was smiling and excited to go and play at the “park” and so, having no clue about how to attain some balance in my life, and feeling like it was my job to make her happy no matter what, I changed my plans, gave up the idea of taking my first work-out class in years, and took her to the park. The pause button on that remote control was not going to budge.
Press the fast-forward button to about 7 years later. Our son, Matt was 8-years old, and our daughter was now 11. I was on my way to trek in Nepal for a little over two-weeks. My husband and mother took care of the kids, and my mom told me that the first night I was gone, our son went into my closet, pulled out my favorite sweatshirt, and took it into his bed and slept with it every night until I came home. The balance of letting go and holding on, of keeping connection and offering space. When I returned, we had a great reunion and both kids asked me to bring in my slides to their classroom and talk about my trip. They both kept the rocks I had brought back from Mt. Everest proudly displayed in their rooms. Fast forward to today, as I write this. Our son is now 19 years old, and is enjoying his second trip to Israel. Our daughter is unpacking 4 years worth of college boxes, and packing up to leave for The Hague this Tuesday, where she will be working as a research intern at the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Our lives have become of series of launching and embracing, of saying good-bye and hello, of breathing in and breathing out. We learn from each other, and we love each other, not by holding on too tightly, but by loving fiercely and freely giving space for each person to expand, breath by breath, into whom they truly are.
In my novel, the book begins as Syd’s only child leaves for college. She begins the process of finding herself, who she is beyond her role as daughter, wife and mother. Like a good remote control, our lives our full of options, and sometimes the balance is in pressing the pause, and sometimes it’s in pressing play. Sometimes it’s trying to fast forward, to see how things will turn out, and sometimes it’s trying to rewind, to remember and return to a certain time and place. In the end, though, it’s ultimately about watching life unfold, and breathing it all in, and then letting it all out. And breathing it in again. I believe the best gift we can give to our children and ourselves is one and the same. Live your truest life, and grow into your most authentic self. And then, offer it all up…
If I am not for myself,
who will be for me?
If I am only for myself,
what am I?
And if not now, when?
Posted by emfrankel at 11:47 AM
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19 May 2011
The College Years....and Beyond
I’m home from our daughter’s college graduation, but as she prepares to launch herself upon every wave and travel to distant shores, I carry a sinking suspicion that I am riding a current riddled with middle-aged mishegoss.
Let’s start with the shoes. I packed clothes for her graduation weekend that made me feel like I would fit in with the college scene in Madison. I mean after all, I went to the same college. I know the vibe of State Street, lined with every kind of restaurant and bar. The same head shop is still there, along with eastern shops boasting Buddhas and meditation cushions, an array of Tibetan jewelry and Indian cotton dresses that speak of both Delhi and Woodstock.
So I packed accordingly. But after the third walk on that first day from grassy Bascom Hill up State Street towards the State House, I was kvetching like a bubbe instead of traipsing along in flip-flops like all of the college students mulling about. So, like any self-respecting middle-aged suburban woman, I found myself in my own “Happy Hour” – a fabulous shoe store where I knew I could find my comfort, my nirvana, in a pair of “sensible but chic” shoes. You can’t put a price tag on comfort, but if you could, I do fear I overpaid.
Now let’s move to the notion of time. As you get older, you realize time is fleeting. You have perspective at this age, and know what it means to make the most of the time you are given on this Earth. But the problem is, if you want to spend time with your college graduate and her friends, you have to alter your notions of time, and the flexibility of those who have finished final exams and are not yet part of the working world. When my daughter and her friends wanted to know if my husband, Steve, and I would spend time with them that evening and go out for drinks, we eagerly said yes. After all, we had nothing but time for them, and were ready to celebrate their college accomplishments. We asked them what time we should meet them, and where’d they’d like to go. They suggested the Vintage Bar at 11:00 pm. When we asked this question, it was 6:45 pm. Apparently, it is not cool to be at a bar too early, and so they begin their evening out late. They “pre-game” at someone’s house so they can have drinks earlier, but enter the bar on the later, “cooler” side. But my feet were still recovering from my original pair of cute but uncomfortable shoes, and typically, by the time the American Idol results show airs, I’m usually in bed. I couldn’t imagine what I could do for all of those hours to keep myself awake.
I found the answer in fried cheese curds. Cheese curds are a hallmark of Wisconsin, and every bar has their version of this delicious appetizer, along with their own dipping sauce (my favorite is Ranch). While the college graduates pre-game with beer pong and jello shots, I dragged Steve to the various bars on State Street in search of the perfect fried cheese curd. Then I kept both of us awake by complaining that I was retaining too much water as a result of the sodium intake.
When 11:00 finally rolled around, we met our daughter and her friends at the Vintage and after much scouting in the overcrowded bar, managed to finally find a table. We felt like the big machas as we ordered pitchers of Spotted Cow (a delicious beer from New Glarus, Wisconsin) for the group. I was happy, and my feet, still in recovery, were even happier. So I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. After just a half hour of relaxing and laughing over beers, various fingers were racing over Smart phones (after all, these were smart graduates) and before I knew it, we were forfeiting a really great table for another bar, where we’d have to scout out another table. Steve and I didn’t ask questions, because we were just happy to be included. We bowed out before bar time, however, because again, at our age we have perspective on time, and know that if we are going to get up early in the morning for the graduation ceremony, we had better get some sleep.
So here’s the kicker. Steve and I get more hours of sleep than the college graduates, who stayed out until bar time and beyond, and yet look fresh and dewy early the next day in their caps and gowns…
After the graduation ceremony, a group of us went out to a bar for lunch and drinks in celebration. As we poured drinks from the first pitcher (and I should mention the fact that none of us are heavy drinkers - in Madison, a pitcher of beer is as typical and frequent as a glass of milk) - I put my hand over the glass as another round was being poured. “I’m pacing myself,” I explained. But I soon realized that the group understood that to mean that I’m pacing myself with the beer because we were getting an early start to the festivities, and I didn’t want to get plowed. I quickly corrected them, sounding more and more like the middle-aged suburban woman I have become, rather than the college student I once was. “What I mean,” I began to explain,” is that I’m pacing my drinking for the bathroom. I’ll have to pee all day if I have more beer so early in the day.” My husband, trying to be helpful, handed me a fried cheese curd and said, “Maybe the sodium will help you retain water so you won’t have to stop every block for the bathroom.” I realized that we might not be as cool as we thought we were.
Our son has just finished his first year of college and now our daughter has graduated. Sitting with Steve on the terrace at the Union and listening to the lapping of Lake Mendota, I thought of how, 28 years ago, Steve proposed to me in this very space. Despite the fact that I worked in the field of eating disorders for twenty years, and that I am a proponent of non-dieting and body acceptance, I found myself asking Steve a question that just came out without a healthy filter.
“Does it bother you that I don’t look like I’m a college student any more?” I asked; a question that I thought was entirely out of my system. And Steve surprised me as he gave me the perfect answer: “You’re not supposed to,” he said. Not “Yes you do,” or “Maybe if you stopped with the cheese curds,” or a host of other possible answers. His words warmed my middle-aged body, and made my heart jump like it had all those years ago when he proposed here at the Union terrace. Our son looks like a college student. Our daughter looks like a college graduate, and Steve and I? We look like Wisconsin Alumni - proud of our past, content in our present, and looking toward a future where we and our children will claim our space. That’s something I can toast to with a beer raised high, but hopefully not too late in the evening, and preferably near a bathroom.
Posted by emfrankel at 2:31 PM
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03 May 2011
Raging against the article: Flower, Candy, Tummy Tuck? Mom's unconventional Mother's Day Wish List
I saw this article yesterday and it has bothered me for the past 24 hours, so I’m turning it into a blog!
To me, this is not a Happy Mother’s day moment, but a sad one. All of these mothers wanting a “mommy makeover?” First, I find the terms “mommy makeover” and “tummy tuck” in and of itself problematic. As if this was just a day at the spa, finding a new blush or a new method of sit-ups. Giving these procedures “cute” names doesn’t change the fact that these are real surgeries with scalpels cutting into flesh, and infantilizing the names we call these operations doesn’t change what they are.
Plus, I find it so sad how many of us have learned that self-improvement means surgery to change our bodies as we strive to look forever young. We won’t be young forever. We will grow, change and show our history with wrinkles etched into our skin. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves, or feel good about our bodies, but turning to the knife in search of beauty and youth to me, is misguided. I know there are people out there who say there feel so much better about themselves after liposuction, or breast augmentation, but what does it say about our culture when this is what 62% of these mothers polled said they wanted for their “special day?” And what does that teach our children?
The idea that so much of our energy should be directed toward changing our physical appearance and that happiness can be found in doing so is, in my opinion, a dangerous path to travel. I wish that the majority of mothers hearts’ desires included more time for their true passions, and that they found beauty from deep within their own skin, rather than in the manipulation of their flesh to more closely approximate some elusive cultural ideal.
Children learn from what we do. If we take pleasure and pride in our bodies, our children will learn to take pleasure and pride in their bodies, as well. If we complain about the size of our hips, stomach and thighs, our children will learn to complain about their bodies, as well. The epidemic of eating disorders will continue, and we will increasingly be contributing to a culture that turns to the outside for what can only be found on the inside.
We are all going to die. I don’t mean to be a downer in this blog, but it’s true. Our bodies change, we grow older. We can embrace ourselves where we are, take good care of ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually, and let our smile brighten not only our children’s’ lives, but the world. We have an inner light that no scalpel can touch and when we let it shine we are all beautiful.
So this Mother’s Day celebrate your mom, or the memory of your mom, by holding dear in your heart something about her that makes you smile…and mothers everywhere, you are the holder of life; you have brought life forth and your have nurtured that life and watched your children grow…you deserve something wonderful that speaks to your heart, not the manipulation of your body…
What do you think of this article? I'd love to hear your thoughts. And Happy Mother's Day!
Flowers, Candy...Tummy Tuck? Mom's Unconventional Mother's Day Wish List
Released: 5/2/2011 12:00 AM EDT
Source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS)
Newswise — ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill., May 2, 2011 – What would mom get herself for Mother’s Day if she had the chance? A new survey shows that it might be a tummy tuck or breast lift.
A survey released today from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) shows that if cost were not an issue, 62 percent of mothers said that they would consider a “mommy makeover” that includes procedures such as a tummy tuck, breast augmentation and/or breast lift.*
According to ASPS statistics, the number of women getting “mommy makeover” procedures is on the rise. Women had nearly 112,000 tummy tucks in 2010, up 85 percent since 2000; 90,000 breast lifts, up 70 percent since 2000; and 296,000 breast augmentations, up 39 percent since 2000.
“In the last decade we’ve seen women’s attitudes about cosmetic surgery change. Today women are not afraid to admit that they love their children, but they wish their bodies looked the way they did before their first pregnancies. And they’re not afraid to acknowledge that they may need a little help beyond a healthy diet and exercise,” said ASPS President Phillip Haeck, MD.
Another trend that ASPS Member Surgeons are noticing is that the type of patient seeking “mommy makeover” plastic surgery is younger than a decade ago.
“In the past we saw a lot of women in their 50s getting these types of procedures. But today we are seeing young mothers in their 30s coming in for procedures such as tummy tucks and breast lifts. They don't want to wait years to reestablish how they used to look. They want their pre- baby bodies back now," said Dr. Haeck.
The promise of getting her body back is what led 38-year-old Dana Van Gray to undergo surgery for a tummy tuck and breast augmentation just one year after having her last child.
“I didn’t like my stomach. I started noticing a muffin top and I thought - why wait? I’m young, I’m healthy and I want to look good now,” Van Gray said.
“More and more patients like Dana are coming in today asking for mommy makeovers, because women now openly talk about having these procedures. It’s more accepted than it was ten years ago,” said Van Gray’s plastic surgeon, Allen Rosen, MD, an ASPS Member Surgeon in Montclair, New Jersey.
“The techniques and the technologies are to the point where we can do these procedures in an outpatient setting in a very safe and effective fashion, minimizing the amount of downtime and pain. This appeals to our patients,” said Dr. Rosen.
Van Gray says that her new and improved body not only enhanced her looks, but also her attitude. “I feel good so I can be a better mom to my kids,” Van Gray said.
If you are considering a “mommy makeover” the ASPS has these tips:
-Wait at least six months to one year after having your last child to undergo “mommy makeover” procedures
-Be specific about your post-baby body goals so that your surgeon can recommend the most appropriate procedures
-To optimize the final outcome, if you are trying to lose weight, do so before undergoing “mommy makeover” procedures
-Find a surgeon who is board certified in plastic surgery
-Ask to see before and after photos of your plastic surgeon’s recent work
For more statistics on trends in plastic surgery, visit the ASPS Report of the 2010 Plastic Surgery Statistics at http://www.plasticsurgery.org/Media/Statistics.html. Visitors can also find information about procedures and referrals to ASPS Member Surgeons at www.plasticsurgery.org.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons is the largest organization of board-certified plastic surgeons in the world. Representing more than 7,000 physician members, the Society is recognized as a leading authority and information source on cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. ASPS comprises more than 94 percent of all board-certified plastic surgeons in the United States.
Founded in 1931, the Society represents physicians certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery or The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
*The “mommy makeover” survey was conducted online with a random sample of 1,085 mothers, aged 18+, carefully selected to match US population demographics. The survey was conducted by Impulse Research for ASPS during the week of April 25, 2011.
Posted by emfrankel at 5:37 PM
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01 May 2011
Noshing Toward Nirvana
Last week Congregation Shirat Hayam (CSH) in Swampscott, Massachusetts, hosted a “Noshing Toward Nirvana” night in celebration of the release of my novel, Syd Arthur. We offered savory spiced appetizers, deliciously decadent desserts, and tasty tantalizing wines. This was a space where people were invited to kibbutz, kvell and spread good karma.
The room was full with a joyful crowd and we got the noshing part down pat, no problem. Now it’s just a matter of getting the whole nirvana thing…
And I have to say, I am sure if there is a Guinness Book of World Records for the most statues of Buddha in a synagogue…we set it! We had Buddhas on cocktail tables and coffee tables, on the bar, the dessert table and in the center of the appetizers. He graced the book signing table and the coffee and teacart, as well. Some I had bought in Nepal, Bhutan, Vietnam, Thailand and India. There was even one from around the corner that I had purchased at Target. We had great fun placing two Buddhas side by side and asking people to play our game: which Buddha is from Thailand and which is from Target?!
The room looked beautiful with cocktail tables draped in cloths of maroon, gold and burnt orange, candles gave the room both ambiance and soft light (and from the Rabbi’s office we borrowed some of his many standing faux candles), and the sounds of Indian music serenaded us in the background. A DVD slideshow from my recent pilgrimage to India: In the Footsteps of the Buddha, played in a loop helping to bridge the East with the West.
Each table had a centerpiece with a bud vase filled with a bamboo shoot and a flower and a SYDism. What is a SYDism? It is typical Syd comment taken from the book to give people a flavor of Syd Arthur. And, knowing how Syd loves her candy, we scattered gold wrapped chocolate almond kisses on each table.
Rabbi Baruch HaLevi (or as he is commonly called, Rabbi B) began the event by talking about his path toward becoming a rabbi, which also included practicing Buddhism as part of his exploration. He also explained how at CSH each Saturday, there is a Shabbat Synaplex with different offerings. The renewal minyan includes meditation, drumming and chanting of Hebrew phrases and prayers. There is also Torah yoga and Torah study, along with a traditional service. People can pick and choose what they would like to experience. There is a healing service, a talk by the rabbi, and also a Ruakh (spirit) Rally with a full band where we sing and dance, and of course, there is always lunch at noon. CSH is a wonderful community where people truly feel seen, and truly see others. It is a place of celebrating peoples' spiritual paths and joining together in community. For me, it is a place where, as a seeker and a JuBu, I can be fully me. An added delight is that Rabbi B and I are currently co-authoring a book called: Ruakh A Revolution of Jewish Spirit, which he touched on a bit as he introduced me.
After Rabbi B spoke, it was my turn. I talked about my own spiritual search and where it led me, and how it influenced my writing of Syd Arthur. Then people lined up to buy the book and have me sign it (and I have to say, it was a wonderful feeling)!!
It almost felt like a baby naming. For so long, Syd and I kept to ourselves while I was writing her (though sometimes it felt like she was writing me). As I went through the publication process, it was a bit like being pregnant…waiting for Syd Arthur to come out. And now that she is here (her birth date, I mean publication date, was April 15th). it’s like I’m introducing her to this big world. And it is so heart warming to watch her being received and held with loving hands (sometimes in paperback and sometimes on Kindle) and to watch her, in many ways, leave me as she moves into other peoples’ homes, goes with them on vacations, and keeps them company in waiting rooms and coffee shops.
So to all of you who partook in Noshing Toward Nirvana, I send you a big hug of gratitude, and for anyone out there who is thinking about or planning on picking up a copy of Syd Arthur to read, perhaps you could create your own Noshing Toward Nirvana. Buy the book, pour yourself a nice glass of wine, or unwrap a Godiva chocolate, or maybe bite into an Indian pakora and follow Syd as she travels the road to one delicious enlightenment!!
May your spiritual search bring answers to the age-old questions:
*Where do you find your bliss?
*How do you attain enlightenment?
*What’s for dinner?
When I meet my Self should I meet her in country club casual or something more dressy?
How long has it been before I said a prayer before I ate (And let’s face it. “Please God don’t let this chicken Parmesan go to my hips,” doesn’t count.)
I was thinking about my last diet where I’d lost ten pounds quickly and gained fifteen back even faster…
“Would it kill you to make him a chicken (Syd’s mother-in-law asks)? “No, but it sure would put a damper on the chicken’s day.”
Syd asks her father the famous Zen Koan: What is the sound of one hand clapping? He smiles and answers, “On Broadway, they call that a flop.”
For a moment I feel guilty about the fact that only the other day I googled the average lifespan of a Coton De Tulear, what with Rachel away in college and me tied down by the demands of a dog.
"That’s perfect! If you already don’t know anything about Zen, you’re practically a Zen master!”
“You know, Syd I wish there was a way your True Self, whoever that is, can go to the meditation center on Thursday nights, while the Syd Self that we’ve known all these years can come play Mah Jongg.”
Note to self: DO NOT stop at mall to buy Birkenstocks. Walking toward the East is one thing, but I’ll do it in designer footwear, thank you very much.
“Hell,” my mother says. “If I knew that I would be wandering in the desert for 40 years, I’d spritz on a lot of perfume and take some antibacterial get too…”
Many of the old Jewish resorts have been bought and converted into ashrams. I wonder if there is any old brick and mortar out there lamenting how the building has converted, which is what my parents think I am doing.
The street names in our neighborhood – Cherry, Maple, Cedar, Sycamore, Birch, Willow- remind me of a bumper sticker I once saw that read: Suburbia: Where they tear out the trees and then name the streets after them.”
"I'’m midway through my life, but where is my life taking me? And wherever that is, could I please go there as a size two?”
We each order our favorite, the lava cake that oozes chocolate fudge in its center. We console ourselves that there are fresh raspberries on the top, so that it’s a little bit like having fruit for dessert.
“Well I gave her my silky brown hair,” I defended. And my adorable nose.”
“Syd you had a nose job.”
“Yeah, but I gave Rachel the same plastic surgeon.
It’s not my fault that I inherited from my mother the uncanny ability to gain weight just by smelling the dessert.
Ordering Zen merchandise from the Zensational catalogue: “Boy, for a tradition that’s all about nothing, there sure is a lot to choose from.”
Posted by emfrankel at 5:09 PM
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