These Are The Days

Smart ~ Writer ~ Mom

Month: June 2015

The Antidote to Shame

I remember the elbow squeeze very well. When I was a young girl, it was always delivered during a time that was considered particularly important: at a wedding or some other kind of grown-up thing, at a rich family member’s house, an important social event. It was as harmless as a sideways glance or a raised finger telling a child not to touch a hot stove, but still, it was a tacit reminder to be on my best behavior.

The desire to please was instilled early. I’m still shaking off its effects. Can you believe it? I’m nearly 45 years old (holy crap I’m almost 45) and I still struggle every single day with this desire to make sure everybody is happy. And when I miss the mark, the people that are most often left out of that equation are always my husband, my kids and myself.

There’s nothing implicitly wrong with wanting to please people. Right? I mean there’s such satisfaction that comes from giving someone a meaningful gift or cooking a satisfying meal or planning the most exquisite event. But problems arise when we try to please everybody and we do it at our own expense. Why do we do this? Why do I do this? Fear of disappointing? Fear of repercussions? Fear of embarrassment? To avoid shame?

* Ding, ding. We have a winner *

Oh, shame. It’s a wretched word, isn’t it?

I think shame is an unintended consequence of good behavior. We try to be good kids – and then as parents, we try to raise good kids. We instill these unrealistically high expectations on ourselves (or others do) and if we falter WHICH WE WILL – even a little – this dark cloud of shame is cast upon us. It’s inescapable, isn’t it? Shame is powerful. It’s crippling. Shame is narrow in scope, but oh so grand in depth. It cuts deep.

Most of my issues surrounding shame stem from disappointment and embarrassment I believe I had caused in my history as a birthmother. I’d been sent 3,000 miles away to have the baby, and after I’d placed my son with his family, I returned home. It wasn’t discussed again. It was as if my favorite television show had been interrupted, but was now back. We now return to your regularly scheduled program.

While my relationship with my son and his family was fully open, that same openness didn’t transfer into the relationship with my extended family and friends. Few people knew of this deep, dark secret. No one told me not to say anything. It was just implied. Like a phantom elbow squeeze.

Note: this is also why the movie “Frozen” rocked my world. Great story, fabulous animation, superb songs – but goodness. The lyrics in “Let It Go”? Broke. Me. Open.

“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see….be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel. Don’t let them know…”

Yup. This was the story of my life for about 20 years. And so the façade was in place and emotions were ignored, denied and surpressed. YesEverythingsFineThanksForAsking.

My good friend Lori is an adoptive mom and a huge advocate for open adoption. In her book “the Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption”, she says of the benefits of open adoption, “Openness is the antidote to shame.” I couldn’t agree more. And while much of my shame stems from my history as a birthmother, I think Lori’s definition goes beyond the realm of adoption. Openness in adoption is healing, but I also believe openness in the larger picture of life can also have a healing effect; it’s literally and figuratively good for the heart.

I’ve talked in this space about how I typically keep my emotions bottled up. Despite talking with two therapists (one fantastic and one sort of meh), it was actually a blogger I admire who reminded me of a simple truth about why we shouldn’t ignore our emotions and just put on a happy face. She said, “If you’re cold, you shiver, right?” Emotions are natural reactions to what’s going on around us – just like shivering is to the cold – so why do we spend so much time trying to pretend everything is OK? Why are we resisting shivering?

If you feel sad, cry. If you feel anger, frustration, anxiety, elation or whatever, let it move through you. Feel it. Own it. I’ve learned that when you do, it loses its power of you.

Wow, that was a whole lot of “back story” to get to the original intent of this post which is – this past weekend, we brought our girls to see the new Disney Pixar movie “Inside Out.” I know there’s already so much buzz about this film, but I purposely avoided reading other people’s blog posts until I could sort out how I felt and why I liked it. As you can see, I’ve been doing a lot of sorting.

If you haven’t seen it yet, or don’t know the storyline, it’s about an 11-year old girl who moves across the country with her parents. She’s having a hard time adjusting. New home, new friends, new school, new everything. She’s trying to fit in and make everything work, but she’s also doing what many of us do: she’s trying to please everyone around her. Note: there are a few similarities between the movie and my older daughter. Both are eleven. Both just made a recent move (second one for my girl in three years) and both had to make new friends in a new neighborhood and at a new school. If nothing else, the movie gave me a bit more perspective into what my daughter may be going through.

The movie takes place primarily inside this little girl’s head. Some key emotions are in charge: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear. The latter three are sort of sub-characters; the ones really at play here are Joy and Sadness.

Of course, all of these emotions are needed for human beings to process all that happens in our lives. But too often, we stuff one or more of these emotions deep down and put them in a little chalk circle (as the character “Joy” does to “Sadness”). She wants the little girl to have only joyful, joy-filled, happy memories. Of course there’s nothing wrong with choosing to be happy and choosing to make lemonade out of lemons, but we all know unresolved sadness can have clinical outcomes including anxiety, depression, rage, and everyone’s favorite emotion: shame.

Avoiding shame and thus trying to please everyone has (unfortunately) been a big part of my life. But to me, the bigger point from the movie is why are we all so afraid to face our emotions? I was told what most kids are probably told: behave, smile, be polite, be a good girl, don’t act up, don’t cause trouble, speak when spoken to, etc. But there was none of this in the movie. Her parents didn’t tell her to ignore her feelings or to be happy for them; but she did it anyway. Why? Fear of not fitting in, of being different, of ruining things, of disappointing others, of all of these things?

The movie really was superbly done. Core memories, long-term memories, etc. were all discussed as only Pixar can. Throughout the movie, the ebullient and always happy “Joy” tries her hardest to keep “Sadness” from touching any of the girl’s memories. But in the end, the little girl reached her breaking point. She stood in the doorway having just changed her mind about running away and quite literally her emotions took over. And this is when the movie got me. “Joy” steps aside and realizes she can’t do it alone. She encourages “Sadness” to approach the control station in the little girl’s mind. “Joy” nods her approval with the realization that the only way to deal with “Sadness” was to deal with the sadness.

Just like you, I’ve had many moments of joy in my life. So much so that I often feel like Sandra Bullock’s character in Hope Floats when she says “My cup runneth over.”

(How many movies can I possibly reference in this one super-long post that no one is probably reading anway?)

It’s only recently – in the last few years or so – that I’ve allowed them to intermingle with sadness. But you know? It’s a hard habit to break. It’s hard to be vulnerable and trusting. It’s hard to put your faith in other people, even those closest to you, when you think your feelings might disrupt the balance of the universe.

I’m glad that it was sadness that saved the day. It was her power that allowed the girl to release the pain and hurt. Her emotions were no longer in a chalk circle. She was free.


52 Weeks of Sisterhood: Starting Over. Again.

I am totally freaking out about middle school.

It’s such a tough time, right? How is it possible that my girl will be in middle school this fall? I have no freaking idea where the hell the time has gone. Her fifth grade year was interrupted by our mid-year move to a new state and a new school. I didn’t move as a kid, so it was hard for me to relate to having to find your way again. But we all have to start over again. Just because I didn’t move in my elementary school years didn’t mean I couldn’t share a bit of what I’ve learned about college and my many moves out of state. It may have helped a little, but in the end, it was all on her. And she struggled a bit, but then she soared.

20150603_123436At her end of the year ceremony, she brought home lots of awards for academic achievement. And that makes me so proud, but beyond the academic stuff, I’m most proud of how beautifully she’s handling changes and starting over again. She’ll rock middle school, I just know it. And with a bit of wine whole lot of tequila, I just may enjoy it too.


Preschool ended for my little one recently. Now on to the next chapter: summer camp.


Little one with her preschool teachers. Such an awesome classroom experience. She misses them already.

She seems way too little for this. Just – too small, you know? Like, I still see her baby face and her little lips and her sweet little voice and I wonder how can she be four years old?

And yet, her big sister did summer camp starting at age three and she totally loved it. Oh sure, my memory is probably not terrific. But I do remember staying by her side on occasion if she was having a particularly difficult morning. And I shed my fair share of mommy tears as I drove away wondering if I was doing the right thing. It was a fantastic summer camp in Syracuse; I wasn’t worried about her safety. Or whether she’d have fun. It was more about the guilt of not being one of those moms that stays home with their kids in the summer. As much as I love that, I also love my work, so that just wasn’t me.

I asked her recently what she remembered from those years: friends, endless arts and crafts, water sports, field trips and games, one special friend who she’s now connected with on Instagram. All good stuff. All happy memories. Very reassuring.

ATT_1434418659871_20150609_085025In a sweet twist of events, big sister was with me for little one’s first day drop off. We filled her backpack with snacks. Lunch. A water bottle. A change of clothes just in case. She held her hand as we walked in the church hall. She found her cubby, put her things away and went into the big room where lots of kids were coloring. A bit shy, not quite sure if she would like this summer camp thing. Big sister crouched down to her level, told her about what it was like for her and how she was a little scared at first, too. Eventually, little one gave us hugs and inched her way over to the coloring table. She blew us kisses as we walked away.

I felt the sting of tears in my eyes and that familiar lump in my throat. A feeling that I think every mom feels when they drop their kids off at childcare, preschool or summer camp. I tried to suck it up and not get all water-works in front of my older daughter, but a few tears fell. With just a few words she made me feel better. “Mom, she’s gonna love it. You’ll see.”

*Postscript: When we picked her up a few hours later, she was all smiles. The next day, she even yelled at me for coming to pick her up too early. God, the guilt goes both ways doesn’t it?

7 Movies, 4 Bikes, 2 Kids, 1 Weekend

Earlier this week, I had every good intention of writing about our movie-filled weekend. But all of a sudden it’s Friday and here I sit. What surprised me most about last weekend is how very lazy we were some of the time and how active we were some of the time. It was a good mix. May was a busy month so I think we were all enjoying some down time at home.

Our movie-watching megaweekend began last Friday night. Tired from the week, my husband and I climbed the stairs to the bedroom around 10:30. Side note: for the first time in our 16-year marriage we have a king size bed. I think we both dream about it during the day. It is so amazingly comfortable. How have we lived this long in just a queen-size bed? We feel like royalty.

Back to last Friday night.

As usual, we click on the TV to scan the channels and see what’s worth watching. We usually settle on sitcom reruns but tonight my husband found “Leap Year” on one of the movie channels without commercials. I love Amy Adams. In fact, two people have told me that my older daughter bears a bit of a resemblance to her. I’ll take it. She’s beautiful. Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, it’s a great movie.

Quick summary: Woman travels to Ireland a few days before Leap Day to propose to her boyfriend who is there on business. She runs into tons of obstacles getting to where he is, and along the way meets another man who is helping her get to Dublin. Of course, without realizing it, she falls in love with this other man – but she doesn’t act on those feelings. She’s trying to complete the perfect picture in her head with her boyfriend. She meets up with him – and he surprises her with a marriage proposal. She accepts, but later learns her boyfriend only proposed because it “made sense and helped them get into the apartment they both wanted.” She realizes this relationship isn’t what she thought it was and so she leaves him and travels back to Ireland to the man she’d met on her journey.

It’s a sweet movie. We watched the whole thing and didn’t go to sleep until 1:30am. Totally worth it.

On Saturday, the four of us were super lazy. After breakfast and some Disney shows, we came across “Monsters University”. Such a cute movie and something we could all laugh along with. I remember when we saw it a few years ago when it first came out. We were all in Texas visiting family and it was godawful hot. We decided to go to the mall and catch a movie and hopefully cool off. To our huge disappointment, the air conditioning wasn’t working in the theater. OMG SO HOT.

After Monsters University, we somehow stumbled onto “The Brady Bunch Movie” from back in the 90s. This movie just makes me smile from start to finish. Some of it’s not exactly appropriate for an 11yo to see, but for the most part the parody is spot-on.

I remember seeing this movie with a ton of friends from Studio Guest Relations at Disney. We saw the movie at the still-new AMC 24 theaters at Downtown Disney and from the very first joke to the very last line, we laughed our tails off. The best part are the cameos: Ann B. Davis, Christopher Knight, Davy Jones (and Mickey and Peter from the Monkees), and Florence Henderson. I love it all: the costumes, the hair flips, the innuendo (something suddenly came up).

After the Brady Bunch, we landed on a Harry Potter marathon. HOLD. EVERYTHING. We were just at Hogwart’s at Universal Studios so I was totally all over this.

I’m regretting not getting my own wand. And a time turner. I really got into these books and movies, and being in the middle of it all at the theme parks was unbelievable. I had a dream about walking through the brick wall onto platform 9 3/4. Fine. It was two dreams. Also, Daniel Radcliffe gets more handsome with each movie, don’t you think? I think I have a problem.

Anywho. The movie we watched was the fourth one: “HP and the Goblet of Fire.” My daughter’s seen all of the movies at least twice. And she thinks the books are all better than the movies (*heart swells with pride*). However, my husband and I had only seen up to the 5th movie and although that one was great (Order of the Phoenix), we decided not to watch that one. I read my husband the imdb summary of the fifth movie to refresh his memory and the three of us decided to watch the final two movies in the series – HP and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 – later that evening.


We couldn’t wait.

So we put on HP and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 right then and we watched the whole damn thing. I’m not even certain I brushed my teeth that day, such was the frenzy of movie-watching.

Since we also have a four-year old who doesn’t give a flying chocolate frog about Harry Potter, we decided after five straight hours of selfish movie-watching to do something constructive that would involve and entertain her. Parents of the year, right here.

So we went to WalMart and got bikes! Little one already had a bike. And big sister has one, too, but her knees were bumping her chin so we thought it was time for a new one.


This is where we lived in Chicago. It used to be quite visible from the skyline, but new buildings obstruct it partly. We lived on the 25th floor for a few months and then the 14th floor for a year. TOTALLY AWESOME.

And my husband and I haven’t had bikes in forever. Like 1997, to be precise. The year we lived in Chicago, which was such a fantastic year. We biked all over that great city. But then we moved back to Orlando and hell if I can remember what ever became of our bikes.

So bikes it was! Small problem. We had three bikes to haul back home and my lame-mobile / nerd van / mommy car / not-a-Mustang, can’t take more than one bike at a time because of course it can’t. So I took one bike at a time, twice, and my husband rode his home. Worth noting: we only live two miles from the local WalMart. #winning

Goodness this is like my longest post ever. Are you still with me? Is anyone there? Couldn’t blame you if you left, but I’m pressing on.

So, bikes! I took the girls for ice cream, my husband rode home, we had dinner, went for a bike ride through the neighborhood, cleaned up a bit and then shuffled little one off to bed.

And then at 9:45pm, the three of us sat down to watch the MOST EPIC HARRY POTTER MOVIE OF THEM ALL. The one where everybody seems to die and what you thought you knew about everything is sort of turned all around. It was fantastic. Even though I’m probably the last one on the planet to see this movie, I shall warn of spoilers anyway.

Neville slicing the snake? Epic.

Mrs. Weasley calling Bellatrix a bitch? Fabulous.

Snape revealing his true love for Harry’s mother … and then the audience realizing that Snape wasn’t evil after all and that he was really trying to protect Harry all this time? Bittersweet.

Seeing them all 19 years later on platform 9 3/4 with their kids? Oh my goodness.

And that was our fantastic movie-watching weekend!


(footnote: I just realized I forgot one! We also watched “The Good Lie” with Reese Witherspoon. We watched it over two days. I have feelings about this one, so I’ll save it for another post. So, so good.)



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