The Difference Between Quantity and Quality

I recently read an article on The 5 Secrets to Raising a Good Kid, by Harvard psychologists. The number 1 rule was spending quality time with your children. Simon Segal wrote: “It’s not enough just to be physically around your kids; you need to be with them completely.”

Parenting trends have shifted over the last few years. Having three small children of my own, I’m in the thick of it. Fathers and mothers are more involved in their children’s lives than ever before. Traditional work models have been replaced with more flexible schedules. Soccer practices that begin at 4:30pm on a Wednesday are flooded with parents cheering on the sidelines. Home schooling is on the rise. This generation has sparked buzzwords such as “hyper parenting,” “helicopter parenting,” and “lawnmower parenting.”

As well-meaning as we parents may be, we are not exempt from criticism. Thousands of articles flood the Internet labeling our generation’s children as “entitled.” Parents are encouraged to back off and let their kids figure things out on their own. Nonetheless, parents feel more pressure than ever to make their kids’ childhoods magical—and that means being there all the time.

Meanwhile, women are reaching heights of success they never could have dreamed of before. Women are no longer expected to be housewives and child-rearers. They are out in the world, becoming thought leaders, CEOs, and even attempting to become President of the United States. And yet, even “big wig” women are building nurseries in their corporate offices.

It is no surprise that parents feel guilty when they are away from their children because they have to work. And they feel guilty when they’re with their children because they are not working. As if we were not under enough pressure, the psychologists at Harvard remind us that being with our kids all the time isn’t enough, we have to be with them completely. We have to be engaged and fully present, and we have to be that way all the time.

A friend of mine was feeling depressed the other day and we had a long chat. She has no time for herself. Sometimes, she imagines life must be easier for parents who are divorced because co-parents get a couple of days to themselves.

It is hard to be everything for everyone all the time.

This got me thinking about my childhood. My parents were divorced and my father traveled 80% of the time. I spent the bulk of my time with my mother but she also worked full-time. My mom was never the room mom at my school, and I always stayed in aftercare. But I was a happy, well-adjusted kid. I had a healthy relationship with both of my parents.

My parents were not physically with me all the time, but they were with me completely. My father called me every day. He asked me questions and listened to what was going on in my life. He reserved important dates for me in his calendar and made sure to be there on those dates. Whenever he could be with me, he was. My mom picked me up late but made sure to lie with me at night and spend time with me. She was there when I needed help with my homework. She was all love. Both of my parents told me they loved me every day. They were fully immersed in my world, even though they were not always with me.

There was something else my parents did: They made me as much a part of their lives as they were a part of mine. They talked to me about their goals, their work, and their struggles. When my father was traveling, he sent me postcards showing me everywhere he went. He shared stories about his work and his purpose.

As important it is for our children to know we love them, it is important for them to know who we are and what our passions are. They need to understand that when we go to work, we are being productive members of society and our work matters. Other people depend on us, too. Stay-at-home moms and dads also need time to do the things they want or need to do. We are all part of a community that is larger than us and children who learn this will know that they, too, are contributors to society.

Many of us are afraid to separate from our kids. But it is more frightening to fall into depression because we feel we have to be with them all the time. When our children understand who we are and what we do, they become a part of our success … even when it means they have to give up some time with us. Instead of feeling guilty, look at your time apart as a gift you are giving them.

You are teaching children that life is a mixture of family and work, forces that are messy and imperfect and completely intertwined. What matters most is that your kids know that no matter where you are in the world, you will pick up the phone when they call. No matter what you are doing, if your child needs to talk, you will be there to listen. If something is important to them, it is important to you. If your child knows you will move mountains to be with them, if your child hears you tell them, “I love you” every day, if your child sees you are there for them whenever they need you, then you are with your child completely, even when you’re away.

If you have that kind of relationship with your child, then you never leave them, no matter where you are.

Los Momenticos

We all make plans and dream of reaching certain goals. We usually take for granted that the people we love will take part in the realization of those dreams. But we cannot predict the future. We do not know who we will lose along the way. It is bittersweet to celebrate an accomplishment when someone we love is no longer present to share it with us. But some people never leave us, even when they die. Some people leave a legacy, and a legacy lives forever.

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the Cuban-American Bar Association’s annual installation gala. CABA is a non-profit association founded by lawyers of Cuban descent. This evening we were there to honor and witness the installation of our cousin’s fiancée, Javier Lopez, as president of the organization. Although we were happy to celebrate this achievement in Javi’s life, it was not until we arrived at the party that we fully grasped how big a deal this night was for our cousin-in-law.  This was one of those nights you want to share with those you love most. This was one of those bitter-sweet moments.

The event, themed Avenue of Time, was spectacular. Guests were greeted by antique Cuban cars, a wall cleverly decorated with boxes of Cuban cigars, and waiters in Cuban garb passing around mini tamales en casuela. Men in tuxedos and women in gowns enjoyed unusually cool weather in Miami, and photographers documented every moment. Palm trees adorned the tables in the ballroom, and traditional Cuban food was served in a modern American style—fusing the two cultures. It did not escape us as we greeted judges, attorneys, and other professionals, that all these people were gathered to honor our friend and family member.

When the ceremony began, I was surprised to see Javier’s mother, Mercy, walking up to the stage. I imagined a past-president or other CABA member would introduce Javi, but the president-elect chooses who will swear them in to office. Javi’s mother beamed. She was eloquent and firm as she captured the attention of the eleven-hundred audience members. Mercy told the story of a younger Javi who, 10 years before, had come to his parents’ house to tell them he had become a CABA board member. He shared his goal to serve on the board for 10 years and his hope to be elected to be its president in 2016. Javi told his father that if he was elected, it would be him, his father, who would swear him into office.

But Asis, Javi’s father, had passed away four years earlier.

My husband and I stood close to the stage. Mercy described Asis as the “pillar of his family.” My husband’s eyes welled as he watched this ceremony from the lens of a father. His heart cringed at the thought of not being there to see any of our sons’ important milestones.

Mercy hugged her son and then allowed him to take the spotlight. Javi gripped the edges of the lectern and addressed the crowd:

“Life is about los momenticos (the little moments),’ my father used to say.” Javi spoke about this momentico and what it represented in his life. I smiled as his words brought that profound saying back to me.

I, personally, did not know Asis well. In fact, I only spent some time with him during one weekend in which his family invited ours to stay in their house in the Florida Keys. Our cousin and Javi had begun dating seriously and the invitation was a kind gesture to unite the families.  Asis was the kind of person that made you feel like you were family, even if you barely knew him. He had a warm spirit and contagious energy. Asis left a lasting impression on all of us.

On the chalkboard I keep in my kitchen to teach vocabulary and concepts to my children, I remembered scrawling Asis’ wisdom to inspire my children to appreciate the beautiful moments life has to offer.

My focus shifted back to Javi as I heard him repeat another nugget of wisdom his father imparted on him

“You will do well, if you do good.”

Javi honored his father’s values and implored his colleagues to use their prestigious professions to do good—to help those in need. As Javi’s words brought his father to life, I thought to myself, Asis has left a legacy.

Asis did not live a long life. He died at 56. But while he was on this Earth, he savored the momenticos and he did good. He was a good husband, father, friend, and businessman. True to his words, Asis also did well. His four children are doing the same. The seeds Asis planted blossomed into men and women who do good and value the special moments in life. These values will trickle down to Asis’ grandchildren, born and unborn.

While it was sad that Javi’s father was not there to physically swear his son into presidency, it was moving to see how much Javi made his dad a part of the ceremony. Asis filled the room with his presence.

My husband took a deep breath and held my hand. “I can only hope that our sons will remember me the way Javi remembers his father,” he whispered. The indelible mark you leave on your children will journey on even after you’ve shuffled off your mortal coil. What a privilege and a responsibility that is for all of us.

As for Asis, he will always be there, even though he’s not, reminding us to relish in life’s momenticos.

Don’t Eat the Marshmallow, even if you’re the President of the US

 

What seems like another lifetime ago, Joachim de Posada was on a plane traveling from San Juan, Puerto Rico to New York City. He was reading Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It can Matter More Than IQ.
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Buried in the pages of this powerful book was one page discussing the Stanford University marshmallow experiment led by psychologist Walter Mischel. This series of studies, conducted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was on the concept of delayed gratification.

In the study, small children were left in a room. Each child was presented with a marshmallow and given a choice of eating it immediately or waiting fifteen minutes without eating it. The children were told that if they if they waited the fifteen minutes they would be given a second marshmallow.

Two out of three children ate the first marshmallow right away, but one out of three waited the fifteen minutes. A decade later, researchers conducted follow-up studies and discovered that the children who waited for the second marshmallow were more successful as adults than the children who had gobbled the first marshmallow immediately.

Joachim was fascinated by this study and was convinced that the principle of delayed gratification was the most important factor for success. What he could not understand was how such an important concept was buried in one page of one book. This idea drove Joachim to spread the marshmallow study’s results to audiences all over the world. And because his audiences were so taken by the concept, Joachim published the book Don’t Eat The Marshmallow…Yet: The Secret To Sweet Success in Work and LIfe. 

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The book was more successful in Asia (specifically Korea) than in the United States. As Joachim spoke to audiences all over the United States, he explained that the Koreans understood the concept of delayed gratification better than Americans. He suggested that the principle of delayed gratification was one that United States presidents should study and understand so that the country would stop consuming more marshmallows than it produced. Joachim wanted to take this principle of success to the government in hopes that we could save the country from economic ruin. Because of this, he implored Americans to grasp this concept and apply it to their economy.

Joachim died on June 11, 2015. He is no longer here to inspire, to educate, and to continue to spread his message.

Or is he? 

Joachim is my father. Since his death I have been slowly and steadily writing a book about the things my father did while I was growing up to foster a close relationship between us. You see, my parents were divorced and my dad’s career had him traveling 80% of the time. Yet, despite him not being physically present in my daily life, my dad seemed to always be there. Through post cards, daily phone calls, and traditions he created, my father mastered the art of being there when he wasn’t. And as I grew, so did our bond. My father was a permanent positive figure in my life, always available to listen, give advice, celebrate my triumphs, and hold me up when I failed. Because of his incalculable influence on my life, I thought that I could not live without him. But as my father often told me, humans are resilient beings able to tolerate almost anything.

Following my father’s death, I found myself hearing his voice in my mind offering advice, celebrating my triumphs, and holding me up. Not because I actually hear voices in my head… but because my brain remembers his words and his influence. What’s more, my heart remembers. Today I realize that although I cannot touch or see my father, I can feel him. My dad proved to me that he would always be there even when he wasn’t, and he proved it in the most literal sense imaginable.

What I find most gratifying is to see how my father’s presence manifests in others as well. Throughout the year and a half since his passing, I have learned how so many people carry Joachim de Posada in their hearts. I have also seen how his message continues to spread.

This week, during one of the most controversial elections this country has ever seen, The New Yorker Magazine posted this cartoon:

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This post is not about whether you think Donald Trump is a marshmallow eater or resister. Regardless of whether you think this election is a result of delayed gratification or instant gratification, the point is this: The message of the marshmallow is spreading. Delayed gratification is a factor of success to which the United States and we Americans must pay attention.

40 years after Walter Mischel began this study…

12 years after Joachim de Posada published Don’t Eat the Marshmallow…Yet…

One year and a half after Joachim’s death…

The concept of delayed gratification is still spreading. Your ideas can continue even when you’re not there to share them. That is the legacy my father left behind. The power to be there when you’re not.

Now with the Internet and social media we each have more access to spread ideas than ever before. And we all have opportunity to leave our legacy. I can only hope that we use these media for good. I hope that if you have an idea or a product of value, you share it with the world. I hope you can spread your message to inspire and educate others. My dad always said, “you can be just one applied idea away from success.”

What I have learned is to live fully and authentically during this life, nurturing my relationships with friends, family, and clients. I have learned that if we can stay connected with each other and serve as a force for good, for education, and for love – we will never die. Our essence will live on long after we’re gone.

How do I know for sure?

My dad taught me that.

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Stronger Next Year

I celebrated the New Year overlooking the mountains in Vail, Colorado. This is my mother in law’s happiest place on earth. My in laws have welcomed the New Year in these mountains for the last 28 years.

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The last time Orlando and I joined them was 11 years ago as we rung in 2006. We could not have dreamed that 11 years would pass before we traveled these mountains again but sometimes life just happens. Suddenly we were in a whirlwind of getting pregnant and having infants year after year. Each year, around July, we would discuss Vail and agree that we needed to wait another year. This past July, we looked around and realized our kids would be 3 going on 4, 6 and 8 in December. The baby cycle had finished and we were ready to come back.

I confess that as we prepared for our trip, I was nervous.  The last time I skied I was a 26 year old young woman. That had been my first time and I’d only taken a couple of lessons. What if I forgot everything I learned? What if I’m terrified? What if I fall and hurt myself?  

I comforted myself by relying on skiing being like riding a bike. When I put those skis on, I will remember.

The day finally came and I woke up at 5am (I was still on Miami time). The house was quiet as my family slept. I laid in my bed with my eyes closed and envisioned myself skiing successfully. Later that morning I strapped on my boots with confidence. I had signed up for a ski lesson but skipped it because I wanted to be able to check in on my kids. Instead I headed up the mountain with my husband and mother in law to ski some “greens.” My mother in law felt confident that I could ski those slopes because they were the easier ones.

As it turns out, I did forget most of what I learned; I was terrified;  and I fell constantly. There were moments that I would look down the mountain and felt completely paralyzed with fear. I did not have full control of my skis and sometimes would go faster than I intended. However, despite all these hiccups, something magical happened to me on that mountain. I realized that even though I was afraid – I was strong. Stronger, in fact, than I was 11 years ago. As most people age, they find that they can’t do things that they could do before. They gain weight over the years, even though sometimes its a subtle progression. As women have babies, their bodies change. There is a big difference between pushing 30 and pushing 40, 50, or 60. But in my case, it was the opposite. The lifestyle change that I implemented in my life 6 years ago has stalled the aging process for me. As a result of my dietary changes, I am thinner now than I was when I was in my twenties. And thankfully I found running. Running has forced me to push my body to become stronger. In the last couple of years, I have exercised regularly. I do light weight training and incorporate different exercises to supplement my running.  I am consciously and actively preparing to enter my forties in good physical condition. I witnessed the benefits of my choices on that mountain as my body hit the snow and my skis popped off.  

Falling wasn’t the point. The point was getting back up.

I got back up on the slopes because my arms and legs were strong. I had the endurance to ski down the full mountain, despite the falls. I needed practice and some instruction, but I had the CAPACITY to do it. This got me thinking about the New Year. So many people have the New Year’s resolution to lose weight. We all want to lose a few pounds before summer season starts and we are forced into our bathing suits. But sometimes our short term goals seem unattainable. We don’t feel we can lose all the weight we have to lose in a few short months. Or when it gets tough, summer doesn’t feel like enough pull to keep us going. But what if we were to change our goal. What if our goal wasn’t just to lose a few pounds in a couple of months. What if your goal was to be thinner and stronger in 10 years than you are right now?  Is that enough time? If from this moment on, you never gain another pound. And regardless of the speed with which you lose, every day you work on being a little stronger than you were the day before, how would you feel a year from now, or 5 or 10?

My point is to think of entering the next decade of your life in better physical condition than you were this decade. Imagine being 50 and feeling stronger than you did at 40. What a wonderful thing that would be. If you don’t eat the marshmallow now, what will your life look like in 10 years?

Granted,  you will age. You will slow down at some point. But the goal is not to slow down before you HAVE to. The goal is to work with what is within your control. I run with a 67 year old man that I admire greatly. He claims he is not as fast now as he was in his younger years. And yet, I still can’t keep up with him. He is FAST. He is STRONG. And he continues to set new goals for himself. He is in better physical condition than most men in their 40s. His dedication and commitment to exercise and health is allowing him to maximize his age and really enjoy himself.

Take a look at where you are now and think of where you want to be. If you are in excellent physical shape, then your goal may be to maintain that condition. Maintenance takes a lot of work. But if you are not in the shape you wish to be. If you have to lose weight, or you have high cholesterol or you don’t exercise, your time is NOW. Start making changes. Don’t worry about how long it’ll take. The goal is not to be 20 forever. It is to be the best you can be at 30, at 40, at 50 and at 90. 

As long as you’re alive, you have time. If every year, you are stronger than you were the year before, imagine how you will feel in 10 years. My wish for you is not to let aging be your limiting factor. Don’t just chalk up limitations to being older. Think you can. Know you can. Work towards being able to. As long as you do your part, the rest is up to the universe.

I can tell you that 3 babies and 11 years later, I feel privileged to have the strength to ski down this mountain. I am reaping the benefits of the choices I have made over the last 6 years and that feels amazing. As for my goal 10 years from now? To ski with my teenage sons down this very mountain – just next time I won’t skip the lessons.

img_8259*For those of you who are in your 40s or above and take this post seriously, I highly recommend reading Younger Next Year, by Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge.

Are you Motivated or Obligated?

On Saturday mornings my running group meets at exactly 6:30am to run seven miles. This same running group usually gathers on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays between 5:45am and 6:00am but on Saturdays we get a little more snooze time. Despite the half hour reprieve, I could not get up this Saturday. I heard the alarm. I acknowledged that it was time to get up and run, but I made a conscious choice to sleep rather than run. I had not run on Thursday either because I had to be in court at 8a.m. for a hearing. I have had hearings at 8a.m. before when I did not skip my run, but not that day.

On Saturday, I woke up around 7:30am and, out of sheer guilt, I put my workout clothes and headed outside. Instead of running seven miles, I ran four and a half. Well at least I did something. 

During my run I got to thinking. Why couldn’t I wake up this morning? I retraced my steps.

Went to bed at 10:30pm. Well that’s not that late for a Friday evening family night. I’ve run with less sleep.

I had a tough week at work. Oh please that’s never stopped me before.

No matter what excuse I came up with, I could identify a handful of times I had run in spite of that excuse. What was different?

Motivation.

There are two kinds of motivation. Push or pull. When you have to push yourself to do something, you perceive it as an obligation. But when something greater than you pulls you do to something, you view that as motivation.

Two years ago, my husband, Orlando, was working for a law firm he had been with for 8 years. At the time, he thought he hated being a lawyer. I used to think it was such a shame that he despised his profession. Such an intelligent, witty man; an extraordinary trial lawyer; talent wasted on a person who didn’t care for it. He spent years thinking of a way out of his career. Maybe he could become a teacher or a judge. He branched out into a new field of law hoping that would reignite some passion in his the profession. No luck. He hated being a lawyer. But he had a wife, kids, a dog and a mortgage. Fear of the unknown kept him prisoner in his circumstances.

Until the day things got so bad that he had no choice but to leave. We still had a dog, three small boys, and had just bought a house increasing our overhead by 30%.

The difference was that the fear of the unknown was not nearly as bad as the fear of staying where he was.

On one November evening, Orlando walked into our bedroom and told me he was quitting his job. At the time I thought this might be a good opportunity for my husband to find what he was looking for. He could apply for a teaching position, or start campaigning for a judicial election. Despite being terrified of what awaited us, I held Orlando’s hand and took the leap with him. I knew that as his wife, I had to believe in him even more than he believed in himself. I understood the risks but I behaved as if we couldn’t fail.

Orlando decided to move into my current office as a sole practitioner. If he could get a few cases a month, we would at least stay afloat until he figured things out. Through word of mouth, he picked up a couple of cases, and his law practice began. Then the craziest thing happened. My husband found happiness. He did things he couldn’t do before like wear jeans and a polo to the office. If at 3:00pm he was not swamped with work, he picked his kids up from school. When taking a case he determined the price he would charge for his services, not what he was told to charge. He worked on his own terms. A flame ignited within his soul and suddenly he was hungry, passionate and alive.

He discovered that he did not hate the practice of law, he just hated his previous job. Since then my husband has more than tripled his income. I used to think Orlando only cared about being with his family and having fun. Not that that is a bad thing, but “Ambitious” and “hard working” were not adjectives that I thought defined him. What we didn’t know then, that we know now, is that at his previous employment Orlando wasn’t motivated to work, he was obligated to work.

He always did what he had to do. He went to work every day. He paid the bills. For years Orlando met his obligations. But he was mediocre despite raw talent and potential. That sense of obligation stifled and depressed him. Once Orlando had the courage to break free from that environment, his life changed. Orlando discovered the most powerful form of motivation. The pull.

Orlando is now pulled by something that is greater than him. His undying commitment to his family, his desire to thrive financially, and his need to fiercely advocate for his clients. Suddenly he doesn’t mind the things about his job that he complained of before, such as wearing a suit or having to go to court everyday. Instead he is grateful to be a lawyer. I am mesmerized by his creative arguments, his negotiation skills and his ethics. Orlando didn’t need a career change, he needed the right kind of motivation. Orlando actually loves the law. Who knew?

My running is no different. When I began running, I did it as a way to support my girlfriend who wanted to run a half marathon in honor of her daughter who passed away. I ran next to her. I ran because she needed the push. I ran as a way to say to her “I’m sorry this happened to you. I love you and I am here for you.” I was being pulled by something greater than me. Somehow I always found the energy. Even if I was tired, I showed up. Even if I had to work, I showed up. I had no excuses, I just showed up. I found love in running and all the other benefits it bestowed on me. I felt healthier and stronger. I became an athlete which I had never been before. I made new friendships that I cherish. I decided I was a runner. That pull, that motivation, stayed with me for a long time. But recently things changed without me noticing. At night when i’m getting ready for bed, I tell my husband “I have to run tomorrow.” I don’t say “I get to run tomorrow.” I have not been feeling that pull. Instead I’ve been pushing myself to keep going. When the motive switches from motivation to obligation, the energy changes. Then it is easier to skip the run when you didn’t get a good night’s rest. It’s easier to push it off until tomorrow.

Same goes for eating healthy. Its no fun to eat healthy when you’re on a diet and have to lose weight. Then one day you watch a documentary about the food industry which inspires you or angers you, and suddenly you feel a pull. The energy changes. Something inside you desires to be a part of the solution and you find yourself making dietary changes you could not have fathomed before. Weight loss follows suit as if the universe is rewarding you for your cause. You wonder why it took you so long to get here or why changing your diet seemed so impossible before. The food didn’t change. Your perception of what you’re doing changed. You don’t have to eat healthy, you want to eat healthy.

Some of you know exactly what pull is because you have a calling, a passion that drives you. That calling pulls you through the thick of it and you can’t imagine not doing it, even when it’s hard.  On the other hand, some of us have not been lucky enough to be pulled in certain areas of our lives and therefore we push and we push and, consequently, we struggle. Motivation varies from person to person and what pulls me may not pull you. There is no formula for this or right or wrong. The best way to identify what motivates you is to gauge what has pulled you in the past. In my case, I’ve realized that I love inspiring others to create meaningful change in their lives. It fuels me to be accountable and hold others accountable. I am most driven when I can be used as a vehicle to push someone else ahead in their journey.

Knowing this about myself, I know I need to find purpose in my running. We need purpose to truly be motivated. But purpose doesn’t always fall on our laps. We have to look for the pull. Don’t get me wrong, obligation is not a bad thing. We gotta do what we gotta do. But when we are operating solely out of obligation, the energy runs out.

When things aren’t working, or when what you’re doing seems harder than it should be, take a look at what’s driving you. Are you doing something out of obligation or motivation? Are you pushing yourself or is something greater than you pulling you? The beauty of this life is that we have the capacity to change. No matter what circumstance you’re in now it is not permanent. Take the time to evaluate, assess, and seek that pull. You will be amazed the energy inside you when you start doing things because you want to, instead of because you have to.

Is the Exception the Rule?

On Friday morning my phone rings. I grab the phone and see that it is my girlfriend, so I drag the slider to the right. “Hey you!”  Without so much as a “hello” she spouts out in an exasperated voice, “I can’t handle my kid getting a lollipop after Spanish anymore. I’m done! It happens every single week Caro and I haven’t wanted to be THAT parent, you know, the only parent that doesn’t let my kid eat the lollipop, but I’m going to HAVE to be because I simply can’t deal with my kid eating candy every week. I hate candy. Candy rots your teeth. Why can’t they give him a sticker?”

“I understand” I said, but she wasn’t finished. “That’s not all Caro. Then yesterday I took him to my dad’s house and he fed him mac and cheese with juice and cake and chocolate. This was his dinner Caro!” She’s not finished. “And if this was the only time he ever ate junk food then fine but then the weekend comes and we have birthday parties and there is more junk. So really it feels like he’s eating crap all the time. I’m calling you to ask you what I should do because I really don’t know what to do.”

Tuesday afternoon as I am heading to pick up my kids at school, my phone rings. I am wearing my headphones and without looking down at my phone I press the button to answer. Another mom friend of mine is on the line and she seems frustrated. “What’s up?” I ask. “My daughter started school this week and her lunch comes home untouched. I asked her why she didn’t eat, and her response was that she was not hungry. Then I find out that the reason she is not hungry is because they gave her Oreo cookies and “Cheez-its” for morning snack. Morning snack Caro! My daughter is eating oreos before 11 am! She is already a difficult eater.  I can barely get her to eat any healthy food at all, so of course if she is given junk food for snack right before lunch, there is no chance she will eat her lunch. And when she got in the car she had a cupcake in her hand – so there goes dinner! Is this how it’s going to be? Does this mean that all she will eat every day is cookies, goldfish and chips without getting any nutrition? How can the school allow this? I’ve worked so hard these years to try to feed her healthy things and that’s it, in pre-k 4 her diet is going to hell. That’s all I got? 4 years? Really? Tell me what to do Caro. I am so upset.”

I receive calls like this all the time from mothers who are worried, frustrated, and disoriented. You might assume that these women are strictly healthy eaters, but that is far from being the case.  These are not tree huggers or granola women. These are regular moms who eat regular diets, some good and some bad. They struggle with weight and sugar addictions and falling off the wagon. Yet they have started to understand how much food affects life.  It used to be that most parents didn’t know any better and didn’t pay much attention to what their kids ate. They only cared that their kids ate SOMETHING. But times have changed. Our culture is changing and society is figuring out that what we eat does matter. So these women want their kids to develop healthy eating habits. They want their kids to learn earlier than they did, to struggle less than they do, to feel better and be happier.

These women call me for answers because they know that I have dedicated a portion of my life to eating healthy – so much so that I even blog about it. I must have it all figured out right? WRONG. I wish I did but the truth is I am equally as frustrated and disoriented as the rest of them.

For example, my kids receive the same lollipop after spanish class. My kids eat the same junky snacks at school and go to the same junk-infested birthday parties that theirs do. I used to justify this in my mind by priding myself on having a ” eat clean” home. My home was the safe haven, where food was healthy and nutritious. But sadly, now even that is being jeopardized.

A few weeks ago, I  discovered that my nanny gives my children gummy worms at the end of the day as a prize for behaving well.  I confronted her about it and asked her to stop. I showed her these individually wrapped prunes that my children love and kindly suggested she use those if she wishes to “reward” them. (Even though I don’t reward them for doing the things that they are supposed to do but I was trying to be flexible.)  Days later, I discovered that she was giving them Juicy Fruit gum. Trying to be reasonable, I didn’t say anything. This week, as I open the front door of my home, my children run cheerfully towards me. I can’t help but notice my son’s lips are shiny and red. I say “Hey boo, what do you have all over your mouth?”

“Gummy!!!!!” he squeels. “Where did you get it from?” “Nanny gave it to me as a prize because I behaved so good!” I thought I had been clear.

Now I am in a predicament. On the one hand I think – this is my home, she needs to folllow my instructions and respect my rules. On the other hand I think- Am I being unreasonable? One gummy isn’t going to hurt them. Am I too strict?

Once again I tell her to please avoid giving the kids gummies when she tells me “but those are the fruit ones!” I pull out my prunes and she says “they don’t like those.” Of course they don’t. Why would they if they know you’re going to offer them juicy fruit and candy instead.  They USED to love them.

Sadly, it doesn’t end with the nanny. We used to have fearless fridays where we made food that was kind of a cheat but a healthier cheat. But now we just cheat. We have taco night and chocolate chip cookies, and sometimes if we’re having enough fun we may even make s’mores.

I struggle between being a “balanced” parent and my deep belief in the power of eating healthy. I don’t want to make eating healthy “a thing.” I don’t want my kids to rebel against me or eat unhealthy behind my back. I don’t want to be too extreme. I don’t want to deprive my kids or make them socially outcasted because of food. I don’t want to be judged by everyone else. But I also don’t want my kids to develop poor eating habits that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. I don’t want to conform to social norms just because it’s what everyone else is doing. I don’t want my kids to get sick because they eat too much junk.

So many family members and friends look at my children with pity when the word “no” comes out of my husband’s or my mouth. We are perceived to be unreasonable and unjust. You can see them giving each other a judgmental look or muttering under their breath “they are just kids” or “one time isn’t going to kill them.”

Grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-grandparents all think that life doesn’t exist when they aren’t present.  They think that the one time THEY see them MUST be the ONLY time that my kids get a treat.

If I had a nickel for every time someone tells me “Well one day isn’t going to hurt them.”

But here’s the problem folks. It isn’t one time. Eating unhealthy is not the exception. Eating unhealthy is the norm.

Either my kids’ grandparents are taking them to Chilli’s for burgers on a Tuesday, or Panera’s for mac n cheese on Thursday, or it is Friday pizza day at school, or cupcakes for johnny’s birthday, or cheez its for snacks, or ice cream after soccer, or cookies for the bake sale, or Friday night cheat night, or popcorn at the movies. Sometimes it’s a vicious combination of two or more of the above on the same day!  And as I just told you, this is not only what others are feeding my kids, it is also what we give the kids.

Each and every occasion calls for the same argument – “one time is not going to hurt them.” But what about if you add up all the times? What if we were to keep a food log of each and every time we made an exception for our kids, what would the percentages be? Would eating unhealthy be the exception or the rule? In the case of my family, it might be a close call.

The struggle is real and in a sense we are under attack. The availability of junk food or fake food is overwhelming and it bombards you from every angle through kid pleasers like the family members, or commercials, or schools, or fast food joints with fun playgrounds or happy meals that are irresistible. Sometimes it feels like a battle we simply cannot win.

So what do I tell these moms when they call me?

“I feel you sister. You are not alone.”

What do we do about it? Well here’s what I’m learning as I navigate through parenting, dealing with my father’s death as result of cancer, and staying healthy:

What matters the most in this life is the love you give and the special moments you share with your family. Everything else kind of washes away anyway.

Having said that, love alone is not enough in enjoying a healthy lifestyle. In terms of what you feed your kids, the scales should tip generously in the favor of eating healthy. If you can accomplish that, it is a huge achievement as a parent.

Talk to your kids and educate them on the importance of food. Lead by example and eat healthy yourself. (Maybe you too could benefit from keeping a food log.) Take your kids to pick strawberries or grow an herb garden with them. Teach them that food can be medicine and let the power of foods like ginger and garlic and turmeric heal them when they are feeling sick. Pile on the greens every chance you get. This may mean something as simple as putting one piece of broccoli on their plate or one leaf of spinach with olive oil and calling it a salad. Incorporate vegetables and fruits into their daily diet. Every day. In one form or another.

Participate in making the exceptions be truly exceptions. Maybe you can join forces with other like-minded moms and offer teachers healthier snacks to give your children. Maybe you can offer to bring water to the soccer game instead of gatorade or juice. Say “no” when you need to say no. Maybe, just once in awhile, you have to be the “evil” mom that doesn’t let your kid eat the lollipop after spanish. Draw your boundaries where you need to. These are your kids and your responsibility. It is up to you whether eating unhealthy is the exception or the rule.

If your child is suffering from health issues, attention issues, weight issues, allergies, or anything else, you may have to pay closer attention to what that child is eating. You may have to be more strict, more unreasonable, and more judged by others. You have to be a conscious and mindful eater and educate yourself so you can make those kinds of decisions when they come up. You have to be ready for war, but pick your battles.

If you can do that, you can probably learn to enjoy the exceptions too. You can smile when the “kid pleasers” show up with cupcakes because you know this is their way of expressing their love for your children.  You can relax a little when they eat the mac and cheese at grandpa’s house because you know they are happy and they are loved and they are lucky to have grandpa.

If you do your part- if you show up and you love, you teach, you lead, and you nourish their bodies as well as their souls- maybe, just maybe, it will all balance out in the end.

 

 

When is it okay to let your kids make bad choices?

Mothers of babies and toddlers are faced with all sorts of dilemmas (especially now in the age of social media). Do I breast feed or bottle feed? Do I cook my baby’s food or give her pre-made baby food? Do I let her cry it out or do I sleep with her? Do I home school or take her to traditional school? The options are endless and they cause new mothers (and fathers) a lot of stress. However, if you think about it, the decisions are all about what the parent thinks is right. The parent has all the control. As difficult as those decisions may seem at the time, the parent only has to worry about themselves getting it right … or maybe getting it wrong. But what happens when the child becomes a person? What happens when the child can make decisions for herself? What happens when her choices contradict your own ideologies? When is it okay to let your child make a bad decision?

My oldest child is 7, and he wants to drink Coke. Now this may not seem like a big deal to some people, but consider the source. I write a healthy eating blog. I pride myself on living a healthy life. I have been shoving vegetables down my kids’ throats since they were old enough to chew. I educate my children on the dangers of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial food coloring, processed foods, and fast food restaurants. Eating healthy is my thing. I DESPISE SODA. In fact, I have written blogs about my boundaries with my children, and one of my boundaries is “absolutely no soda under any circumstances.” That is my limit. I will make no concessions. But now my 7 year old wants to drink Coke.

Honestly I thought I had more time. I thought my child would rebel against me later in life. I thought I was in control. Even more comically, I was naive enough to believe that my children would never want to drink soda. After all, I had taught them better. I didn’t expose them to it or offer it to them on special occasions. And yet, here we are; my 7 year old wants to drink Coke.

I have pretty mature kids, and I think I’m doing a good job in the sense that they feel they can talk to me even if they know my position on a matter. So I didn’t catch my 7-year-old at a birthday party chugging a coke can and hoping I didn’t notice. On the contrary, very maturely, he approached me one day and said “Mom, I think I should be able to drink Coke. My friends drink it. Adults drink it. I just don’t understand why you won’t let me.” I explained my reasons: It’s full of sugar. It’s not good for you. It’s addictive. It can cause all sorts of health problems. As we went back and forth, I realized he simply didn’t care. His position was clear; he wanted to have the option to drink it.

I thought about this and realized I have two options:

  1. I can stick to my guns and say “NO! You may not drink Coke and that is my final answer. I am the parent; you are the child. I know better and you will do as I say.” My son will either obey me out of fear or he will drink coke behind my back.OR
  2. I can say “Fine. Do whatever you want. Drink Coke if you’d like.” At that point my son can drink Coke and he will either love it or hate it. He may become addicted or he may not.

Thinking about option 1 led me to the disturbing conclusion that by forcing him to obey me or not, he was still making a choice. Therein lies the rub. The time had come when my son had a choice—even if I tried to take it away. On the other hand, if I allowed him to do it, did I violate my own belief system? Was I giving in? Aren’t I supposed to parent? My mind wandered into the future and I suddenly became the parent of a teenager. Would letting him drink Coke mean I would let him try drugs in the future? After all, I consider coke to be as bad as drugs. Then I thought about the timing. Of course, at some point in his life, my child was going to make his own decisions. But when is that time? If I let him make his own decisions at 7 does that mean I am setting him up for failure, especially if I know his decision would be the wrong one? Wouldn’t a good parent try to make good decisions for their children as long as possible (like forever)?

And then there was the other thing—the personal thing—the shame in the game. What would other people think if they saw my son drinking coke? I write about healthy eating. I have publicly and openly shared my lifestyle choices and my parenting style. How embarrassing would it be for me if my kid was the one drinking Coke at a party—like the religious fanatic whose unwed, teenage daughter becomes pregnant in high school? It’s a tough pill to swallow that your kids would do something like that after you’ve worked so hard to teach them better.

So what did I decide? I decided that my son, at the tender age of 7, has taught me a great lesson about parenting and about humanity. My children are their own individual people. Humans are all different. We care about different things. We put weight on different things. We make different choices. Your children are no different. Sure they can look like you; they can imitate you and they are certainly predisposed to, but they are different; they will think differently, and sometimes, they will make different choices, even if you disagree with them. You may choose to let this embarrass you, you may choose to let it affect your relationship with them, or you may choose to accept them for who they are no matter what. That is ultimately your choice.

I soaked this in and I chose to let my child drink Coke. I broke my “under no circumstances rule.” I still set boundaries, because after all he is the child and I am the parent, but nonetheless, my original boundaries had now changed.

My new boundaries are as follows:

  1. You can drink Coke at birthday parties or special events.
  2. You must drink it in moderation. 1–2 small cups.
  3. We will always offer you an alternative like Perrier with lemon that you can choose to have instead.
  4. I will not buy Coke or have it available in my home.
  5. I will not drink Coke myself.
  6. I will continue to educate you about healthy eating.

 

Did I look into this too deeply? Maybe. Should I make such a big deal about my son having a cup of Coke? Probably not—but this is just the beginning. The little problems we encounter when they are young set us up to deal with the bigger problems that arise when they are older. As time goes on, parents are forced to change their boundaries, mend, bend, and adapt. No matter how rigid you are or how strict your beliefs, you will be challenged. It’s not fun. It may not seem fair. But it’s life.

This little issue helped me establish the kind of relationship I want to have with my sons. What do I want? I want my kids to trust me and tell me what they’re thinking. I want them to know I trust them. I want to have a mutually respectful relationship with them. I want to lead my life by example instead of telling them what they should be doing. I want to guide them as best I can. I want to educate them. I want to instill good values and morals in them. I want to keep them close. I want to know them.

I hope I will raise them as happy, successful, independent and good adults. I hope we will agree more often than not. But when we disagree, I hope to keep an open mind so that maybe the one learning will be me.

So when do we let our kids make bad choices? I guess the choice is up to you.

 

Eat like a Minimalist

A few years ago I was introduced to the concept of Minimalism. I lived in a 3 bedroom townhouse at the time. It was a decent-sized townhouse, roughly 1350 sq. ft., which my husband and I purchased as newly weds. 6 years later, living in that space with 2 toddlers and a baby, the townhouse no longer felt comfortable. May I mention that little babies come with big accessories? We felt like a pack of sardines squeezing into a little can. Why wouldn’t we move?

We’d made that purchase during an inflated market, meaning we bought the house at a high price (10 year mistake). When the market came crashing down, suddenly there were great, big houses available at more than affordable prices, but our money was tied in our little townhouse. We did not want to sell it and take a haircut, but couldn’t buy a new house without selling the old one. We were stuck between a rock and a hard place. Lots of people panicked during that time and reacted to the market in many ways, which I won’t waste time discussing on this post, but we understood this was a temporary situation. We knew the market would eventually stabilize. We were certain we would eventually own a bigger home. And I had the perspective that even though this space seemed too small for my family, New Yorkers and Europeans and many others were living with the same square footage and family structure as we were. Why couldn’t we?

We stayed put.

So instead of going into panic mode, I turned to minimalism.  I read Joshua Becker’s book, Simplify, and read his blog posts. I figured I couldn’t get rid of any of the family members, but I could get rid of some of their stuff, so I started purging. Minimalism is a journey. It requires you to deal with the emotional attachment you to have to things. I was never able to go to the extreme of having everything I own fit in my backpack, but I was able to reduce my family’s material possessions and clutter to help us feel comfortable in the space we had. I confess we actually did fit fine in the townhouse until my husband bought us 4 bicycles (and the baby seat for the bicycle) for Christmas and then we really had to move. My cup runneth over.

The time finally came when we found the house we loved, the market was stable enough to sell without taking a loss and we did buy a larger house.  Still, the principles of minimalism stuck with me. I wanted to have more space but I did not necessarily want to overfill that space. I am weary of the trap of buying things just because I have the space to do so. We have now been living in our new home for almost 2 years and I can say that we are sticking to the minimalism lifestyle. For example, I am proud to announce our car gets parked inside the garage and we have less tv’s than people or rooms.

Don’t get me wrong, we do live with three small boys and stuff does accumulate – toys, art, papers, etc. I still have friends who I turn to when I need a purging intervention.  But we continue the journey and when we realize we have begun accumulating again, we reset and start again.

As I became conscious of simplifying my material possessions, I realized I had been applying similar principles when I began my healthy eating lifestyle. I was eating like a minimalist long before I was living like one. I thought it would be a helpful exercise to outline three minimalist principles to apply to the way you eat. These three simple concepts will transform you into a conscious food shopper and eater.

  1. Be weary of a cluttered nutritional label 

The easiest way to eat clean is to focus on single ingredients. Whole foods are single ingredient foods. Apples, oranges, broccoli, asparagus, chicken, fish…you get the drift. What can get tricky are foods that come in containers. A good example is peanut butter. Peanut butter should be peanuts blended with an oil to obtain a creamy consistency. Problem is, when you skim the peanut butter isle you will find 100 different brands of peanut butter. They are not all created equally. Most peanut butters, even organic brands, contain sugar, salt and other ingredients. Those are not the peanut butters we should be eating. Another example is coconut water. Make sure the ingredient label reads: coconut water. If there are several ingredients, including sugar, be weary.  Another common culprit is snack foods. Chips, crackers, cereals, and energy bars come with cluttered nutritional labels. When you pick up one of these foods and turn it around to read the label, think clutter. If you can’t define the words on the label, if you find yourself skimming through it because the small font is hurting your eyes, if reading the label is a painful exercise…that is your cue to put the item down. Imagine your body as a drawer. If the drawer is overstuffed, you end up not using clothes that you actually like because you don’t find them in the pile of stuff you have. Similarly, If you overstuff your liver with processed foods, toxic residue builds up and your liver cannot break down fat efficiently. Cluttered livers don’t work any better than cluttered minds.

2.  Only eat what you need or what you love. 

This concept really struck me. I always thought of minimalist people as people who only possessed material things they absolutely needed. I pictured bare, empty spaces which I associated with a “cold” look. I didn’t want a cold home. I pictured my home to be warm, cozy, and inviting. Furthermore, there are things that I don’t “need” such as photo albums, but that I could not fathom parting with.  Then I learned this principle of owning what you need and/or what you love. Now that made this lifestyle attractive.  I could be warm and cozy while owning as little as possible. I could do that.

I think of food the same way. I often hear comments such as “I love food too much to eat healthy,” or “I don’t want to give up eating x.” That’s where minimalism helps. What does YOUR body need from food? This is an individualized question. Sure we can generalize, but a marathon runner needs more energy than a couch potato. A young person needs more caloric intake than an older person. If you suffer from food allergies, your needs are different than someone else’s. So the question becomes what do you need in your daily diet- or in the reverse – what does your diet not need? On a daily basis, you should be eating what your body needs the most at the current stage you’re in. And then the question becomes, what do you love? The ideal would be for you to love the foods you need to consume. But there are always foods that we love but don’t need. Don’t deprive yourself of those foods all the time. Life is meant to enjoy. So imagine you’re at a party and there are lots of options available. Chances are you may be tempted to try everything, drink soda, or overeat. But if you practice mindfulness and assess your situation, you may realize you’re not really hungry because you had eaten lunch just an hour before. Or you may scan the food items and spot one particular food that you love that is a total treat. Since you are practicing minimalism, instead of sampling everything, you might just eat that one irresistible item and pass on the other unnecessary calories. The point is to choose wisely. So often we eat just because the food is available to us. Not because we need it or even love it. Minimalism can help you detach from stuff, but it can also help you detach from foods. When you adapt to eating whole and simple foods, you begin to love food in a different way. And even if you love yourself your cheats, you will enjoy them so much more because you’ll be eating those foods that are simply worth the cheat.

3. Eat higher quality foods. 

Eating healthy is expensive, especially if you are buying organic. However, a minimalist lifestyle allows you to spend more money on the things you are buying, because you are buying less overall. Before I changed my eating habits, I would go to the store and see items like Mac n cheese or Pasta Roni and because I wasn’t meal planning, I would purchase them just to have them in the house. I would also buy products that were on sale, even if they weren’t on my grocery shopping list. My refrigerator and pantry was always full of food but I wasn’t necessarily eating those foods. Since I wasn’t meal planning, nor was I concerned with what I ate, I also dined out more often. I didn’t shop consciously or eat consciously. Things have changed. I buy perishable foods so I know I can’t buy too many or they will spoil. I plan my meals so I eat out much less. I also repurpose my foods. If my son had a few apple slices for snack, I toss the leftover in a smoothie the next morning. If we make soup one day, we blend it into a puree two days after that or toss it over some quinoa to change the meal. My refrigerator sometimes feels so empty and yet I have plenty of food for my family. Does it mean I save money by eating healthy? I can’t say yes for sure today, but my gamble is that any extra expense I incur will be saved in medical bills for my family.

I have found that diets work short term, but it is the principles that sustain a healthy lifestyle. This is not a quick fix to weight loss, it is a journey to a lifetime to health, happiness and mindfulness.

The Low-Carb Healthy Alternative to Restoring your iPhone when it falls in the water

Millet - a healthy grain You know those days when there is a domino effect of events that totally throws your day for a loop? I was having one of those days. I woke up an hour late. So late in fact, that when my eyes opened and zoomed in at the time, I realized I only had 13 minutes to make it to my running group. First domino.

I jumped out of bed, slipped on my running clothes and gear and darted out of the house. No time for coffee. No time for packing lunches. No time to think. I did miraculously make it to my run on time. By the time I was in my 3rd mile, I relaxed a bit and figured the rest of the day would go on normally. I was wrong. Upon my return home, I walked into my bedroom and my husband looked over and said to me, “Ryan threw up this morning.” Second Domino.

Ryan didn’t look sick so I thought maybe it was a fluke. My husband rushed off to court, unable to take my older son to school. Third Domino.

I tried to stay on schedule, calling out to Orly to remember to brush his teeth, asking Justin to finish his breakfast. But everyone was slower than usual. Suddenly it was exactly one minute after the time I absolutely have to leave the house to make sure my oldest son is not late to school and only 2 of the 3 were dressed and only 1 of the 3 lunches were packed. I left the baby in his pajamas, grabbed the one lunchbox and routed the three boys into their car seats. I figured I would drop off the older two, come back to dress the baby, finish the lunches, and take him a little later. Cue dominoes falling. I drop Orly off…late. I drop Justin off …without lunch. I come back home with Ryan. As we walk into the kitchen, he doesn’t look so good and proceeds to throw up all over himself and the floor. Oh God, its not a fluke. He is sick. I realize there will be no going to work today or taking Ryan to school. Oh well. I bathe my little munchkin, dress him in fresh clothes, brush his teeth, comb his hair and snuggle him on the couch with a blanket so he can watch Sesame Street as I clean up the vomit mess on the floor. I fill my mop bucket with water and clorox and begin cleaning away. Then, my phone rang. I don’t think much of it. I answered because I can multitask. As I spoke to my friend and simultaneously put the mop in the bucket to rinse it off, something happened. I must have made some movement with my head and shoulder – I don’t really know how it happened, but with no time to react my phone went flying straight into my bucket of water.

NOOOOOOOOO.

All dominoes down.

This was more than I could handle. This was my tipping point. My phone, my email, my text messages, my pictures, my videos. OH PLEASE NO! Can a human survive without a cell phone?   As quickly as it fell in, I snagged it out as I exclaimed “my phone fell in the water!” My friend was still on the phone. She yelled “put the phone in rice.” I hung up, took the phone out of its case, dried it as best as I could and headed towards my pantry. Problem is…I don’t eat rice. I looked through every shelf. I did not have rice in my kitchen. Seriously? Well they say, necessity is the mother of invention. So I kept scanning my shelves and I did have some Millet.

Millet is a whole grain which is uniquely high in nutrients. It is an alkaline food and therefore digests easily. It has high vitamin B content, magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium and zinc. It is also a healthy source of essential fats in the body. I buy it because it is low on the glycemic index and has lots of fiber. Since this is the only grain I had available at the moment, I decided to submerge my iPhone in it and hope for the best. I will spare you the hours of despair of not having access to my phone (the phone was completely dead the whole day), taking it out of the millet, putting it back in the millet, and so on. Instead I will tell you that after many hours, the phone did finally turn back on. The only inconvenience was that the millet grains are so small that they got stuck in some of the holes of my phone. I used the point of a paper clip to get them out. But otherwise, the millet worked.

Turned out to be a whacky day but on the bright side, I got to spend a lot of quality time with just my little one for a change.

As I slipped into bed that evening, grateful that my son was feeling better, that my phone was working again, and that tomorrow my world would go back to normal, it really struck me that I had not found any rice in my house. As a Cuban-American girl, I grew up eating white rice and beans every night for dinner. There was a time that I could not fathom a meal not containing rice as a side.  We are all creatures of habit. We tend to adopt staple foods, customs, and traditions in our lives and we stick to them. This is not a bad thing. It helps us do all the things we have to do without having to think so much. But just because we are accustomed to doing things one way, doesn’t mean its the only way. What we know is limited to what we are exposed to. However, when weight or illness becomes an issue, we are often forced to explore new foods to restore our health and our bodies. This can cause anxiety and stress.

When I changed my diet years ago, I felt this fear of the unknown. I didn’t even know where to begin to eat healthier and find alternatives to the foods I was comfortable with. I started trying new things and little by little I found a lot of “different” foods that I loved.  The transformation has been such that I found myself searching for a staple food in my pantry that, without me realizing it, is no longer a basic food in my home.

My mom often jokes that all the strange things she eats, she finds at my house. In reality, they are only strange to those who are not exposed to them. So here is my challenge for you this week. Think of some of the staple foods in your diet. Analyze these two questions:

  1. are these foods contributing to your health
  2. are there any alternative foods that you could eat as a substitute in order to promote a healthier lifestyle.

Please note, I’m not saying you should never eat rice. Rice has its place in our diets from time to time and depending on our exercise regimens, etc. But I do not think it should be one of the principal foods we eat on a daily basis.

If you don’t know what new food to try, go for Millet.

Now you know this healthy grain is not only a great alternative to eating rice, it is also a great alternative to absorbing the moisture of an iPhone when it falls in the water. Its a win-win!

 

The Gift of Grief

The day my father left his body, I, for the very last time, kissed his cheek, hugged what remained of him, held his hands, and walked out of the hospital room. I approached the parking lot, got into my same car, took the same route home, walked into the same house to see the same husband and the same kids. Everything in my life was the same, yet everything was completely different. My world as I knew it had changed.

It was the end of my dad’s life. It was end of his struggle with cancer. It was the end of him attending birthday parties or family functions. It was the end of his career. It was the end of long conversations. It was the end of surprise visits. I felt it was the end of so much. Death does that. It highlights the ends, causing sharp pain which cuts through your heart. Even though I felt this sharp, deep pain, I found myself comparing my situation to others’ and I didn’t feel that I deserved to be in pain. After all, things could be worse. Some of my friends lost their parents much earlier in life. Their parents had not been around to walk them down the aisle or see their grandchildren born. Some of my friends lost children, which is out of order. Our parents are supposed to leave before us, not the other way around.  Some friends have lost their spouses, young and old. Knowing this, I thought to myself “Who am I to complain?” So I didn’t.
I also wanted to believe that my father’s presence would remain with me. I had to believe that we were still connected and he was still here with me. I needed that. But by the same philosophy I thought if he was here with me, then I “should” not miss him. I should not grieve him because he has not left.
I suppressed my pain, thinking that was the right thing to do.
At the time, a friend of mine sent me Rob Bell’s podcast interview with David Kessler on grief.  It took me a while to muster the courage to hear it. I thought it would be too heavy for me. But eventually I did press play. That podcast did something for me that I will be eternally grateful for. It gave me the gift of grief.
By concealing my pain, what I was really trying to do was avoid suffering.  I did not want to be a victim of my loss. My father had taught me to focus on the positive, to use humor in all circumstances, and to be strong. If I grieved, I thought, I was letting him down. But Kessler said something that will forever stay with me. “Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional.” I was merging the two and I did not have to. That changed everything. Pain is inevitable. I have permission to grieve. It doesn’t matter if my loss is more or less tragic than anyone else’s. It doesn’t need to be compared. It is my personal and unique loss and it sucks.
Kessler also helped me reconcile the internal conflict I was having about missing my father but wanting so desperately to feel his presence. “Its not about the grief, its about the change.” My relationship with my father had changed. A relationship, by the way, that I had for 35 years. A relationship that helped mold me and define me. I no longer had a relationship with my father, the person.  I had a relationship with my father, the soul. I had lost one of the most important senses we humans have, the sense of touch. I could see my dad in my mind or in videos. I could sniff his cologne and smell him. I could hear his voice. I could remember him.  But I could no longer touch him. I could not kiss his cheek, hug him or hold his hand. I am allowed to feel the pain of that loss.
The most beautiful realization I made, however, was not while I was listening to the podcast. The realization came later. When I gave myself permission to grieve, I found that I was still the same person as before. I was still positive. I still used humor. I was still strong. I often think of my dad, cry, and minutes later find myself laughing at something adorable my child did. I can miss him and feel his presence simultaneously.
I can grieve with grace.
I have also come to appreciate the cycle between ends and beginnings. The end of one thing is always the beginning of something else. A newly wed welcomes a life of companionship and romantic dinners, yet misses the simplicity of being single.  A new mother thanks God for her beautiful, bouncy, baby and yet sometimes mourns the time when she was only responsible for herself. As parents gloat with pride of the college their bright and independent son has been accepted to, they mourn their little boy who creeped into their beds in the middle of the night. Even happy beginnings come with sad ends. Although I reached the end of my human relationship with my father, it was the beginning of a new relationship. A relationship in which I carry him with me, everywhere I go. If we deny ourselves the joy of the beginning or the pain of the end, we are denying ourselves the act of fully living.
The gift of grief has allowed me to live fully, in the present moment, truly feeling the happy and the sad. I used to have a mantra whenever I felt a twinge of pain,  “I am strong. I do not feel sorry for myself. I am not a victim. I am blessed. I have a good attitude.”  I continue to reiterate these mantras but I add “I am also human…and I miss my dad.” That’s ok too.