Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bravery is a muscle

"Do one thing everyday that scares you."  -Eleanor Roosevelt

I've realized lately that bravery is a muscle.  And if you don't use it, it gets weak.

Yes, I'm sure that this is already well known, and many people have probably already written tomes on this subject.... I'm realizing it for myself now.

I was driving on a highway in New Jersey, where I'd lived for 10 years.  For the first time, probably ever in my life, I noticed I felt slight apprehension about driving on a highway.  This is me, who learned to drive, on a stick shift, on the hills of San Francisco.  (I kid you not.)  This is me, who drove the six hour Highway 5 stretch from LA to SF and back like it was a breeze.  This is me who spent 4 years driving from Pasadena to West LA and back, alternating between inching along in traffic and zooming along with crazy drivers.

So my brain said "Me?!"  (or "You?!" ... does the brain refer to itself in first person?  I should ask it.  Okay, I did.  It says yes.) 

And then I realized, I had been cruising around on only surface streets in my New Jersey suburban area for many years, often going months without even needing to get on a highway, or go over 45 mph.

Probably a small thing, not driving on a highway.  It reminded me, however, that if you let your world get smaller, it can contract your bravery muscle.

This month I have moved to a new state with my husband and our two young children, and I have been writing on this blog about how hard all of this change has been for the kids.  How hard it was for me to move as a child.  Friends have commented how strong this experience will make my kids in the future, which is true.  My mind is drawn back to what I've realized before: many of the experiences that I didn't like as a child, that I thought I would go back and change for myself when looking back at them as an adult, are the exact situations that made me the independent, adventurous, courageous person I am today.  I didn't want to have changed schools 6 times between starting kindergarten and graduating high school.  I didn't want to have changed houses 8 times between starting kindergarten and graduating high school.  I wouldn't have chosen for myself to have been on my own at home after school, starting in 5th grade, even though it was very common in the '70s.  But, as an adult, I realize that all these experiences contributed to me being independent, to being capable of dealing with change, to being adventurous.  People ask me "How did you move to New Jersey sight unseen and knowing no one?  How did you go into New York City and figure your way around and get a job, having never been there before?"  Never occurred to me to be any other way.  I didn't know there was a choice.  I guess when you move that often as a child, you have to sink or swim.  When you are on your own, you are forced to be brave and strong and confident.

"Character building."  Ugh.  As a mother that wants to nurture her children, until now all those type of "toughen-up" phrases have made me flinch.  But now, probably also because at this stage my kids are old enough to be at school all day on their own, I am realizing the time has come to accept that it is not only positive, it is required, for me to allow them to experience change, allow them to flounder with hardship, and it will only make them stronger.

And still I make a frowny face just writing that.

Once the painful adjustment period is over, I will (probably? maybe?) be glad for my kids to have experienced this change. 

If they end up as adults that have strong bravery muscles, able to be courageous, able to embrace change, able to embark on adventures, these are some of the best things in life I could wish for them.


This never fails to make me smile!
I've always called this doggie action
(rubbing back on ground, legs wild in air)
"The Dance of Joy"
(based on Balki Bartokomous from the '80s tv show Perfect Strangers)

New routine for us at after school pickup,
there are adults that walk the students out to the parents lined up in waiting cars.
(My motto in life seems to be "Why choose between smiley faces or hearts,
when you can have smiley faces IN hearts?!!")

It warmed my heart for Aidan that every student in his 3rd grade class
filled out one of these and gave it to him.

A girl in his class made this paper ring for him.

A boy in his class gave him 3 Pokemon cards.
He is all about Pokemon cards right now.

Ashley chose these flowers at the store.

7 yr old Ashley's drawing of flowers in vase.
She loves to draw.

I dig the sunrises in our yard.

I continue to see lots of things in Massachusetts I haven't seen before,
even during 12 winters in New Jersey.
These salt/sand containers are everywhere.
I am guessing this bodes of much much snow.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Coyotes and kindness


And just like that, the honeymoon is over.

No, it is not that quite that dramatic, but still, thud, clunk, aack, I'm disappointed and frustrated.

I grew up spending every summer in the foothills of a Los Angeles suburb.  Coyotes were vaguely referred to, but were generally considered a skittish lot, who only grabbed an outdoor cat once in awhile, and were rarely, if ever, seen roaming the streets.

The coyotes in our new town are apparently neither skittish or unseen.

A few months ago my neighbor was with her two small dogs at the end of our driveway, and there was a coyote.  It did go away when she yelled at it.

Another incident was a coyote trying to grab a small dog and the coyote bit a child on the backside.

I was told they prey on sick dogs, one coyote even sitting outside a house waiting for the dog to come out.

After ten days in our "Big House in the Little Woods," as Aidan calls it affectionately, I've grown to love living surrounded by woods.  Ashley and I saw a large group of turkeys wander by.  I had envisioned deer, racoons, chipmunks.

I had never for a moment thought about carniverous predators.

I'm not naive, I camp, spent the last two summers in Shenandoah hearing of bear sightings daily, saw a bear cub scamper across a road, hiked by a tree with freshly made bear claw marks tearing it open.

Somehow, I had not yet thought of any un-cute animal here in our yard.

My very nice neighbors told me they actually deliberated on whether to tell we newcomers about the coyotes.  I thanked them for their sensitivity, but appreciated their candor, and felt it extremely necessary that I know this information.

This changes a lot.

Although my two large dogs are not technically sick, they are elderly and beginning to have joint soreness and stiffness, and move slower.  We will now no longer allow them to spend time in our yard alone on a lead tied to the house, as we had been doing.  They would not be able to get away from a coyote.

We will not allow the kids to play in the yard unsupervised.

Nature.  It ain't all cartoon bunnies.

And now, from the serious to the sublime!

Craig jokes that we've moved to Mayberry!

I tease him that he is going to go bankrupt paying all of the town residents to be so friendly, a la the Chevy Chase movie Funny Farm!

Our moving van hadn't but pulled away that our neighbor Ed walked up our driveway, introduced himself to us, and gave us his phone number.  By the end of the conversation it was all I could do to stop myself from throwing my arms around him and hugging him!  He and his wife Anne have lived down the street since the '60s and they knew the former owners very well.  I loved that his name was my grandpa's name, and my son's middle name, his wife's name is my middle name, including the -e on the end. 

We are living far away from everything we know.  Family lives many states away.  We barely know anyone in this entire state.  We have zero persons to list as local emergency contacts on our childrens' emergency contact forms at school.  Craig works an hour from our house.  I have not yet made the friendships and rapport that stay-at-home moms who-also-have-no-family-in-the-area require to keep their sanity, knowing there are people to turn to if something comes up.

So when, on my 5th morning in our new town, when my children were emotional and at their 3rd day at their new school, I was at Target, my cell phone rang, my neighbor Ed letting me know today was rubbish day, and that he had marked a map of our town to give to me, with all the stores and important locations in our area, it really touched me.

I am so grateful for our friends and neighbors in our previous town, for the peace of mind it provided me, to know they were the emergency contacts on my childrens' school forms, to know they could help me get in when I locked myself out (who, me?!), to be assured they could pick up my kids from school when I was running late, to be comforted when they would show up at my door with homemade soup when I was sick in bed and my husband was out of town on business.

So when, on our 10th day in our new neigborhood, our neighbors showed up at our door with a basket of homemade chocolate chip cookies, welcoming us to the neighborhood..... it made me feel like oh, okay, I can survive this change, and it looks like I will hopefully yes, make good friends and neighbors here like I did in our previous town.

I get such a good vibe in this house.  And that vibe only continued when the previous owner, now retired in Florida at age 87, wanted to call us and talk with us.  My girlfriend said to me "Who does that?!  That never happens!! That is amazing!"  I look forward to speaking with her, we have exchanged voicemail messages so far.  I think the Hungarian background of she and her husband reminds me of the heritage of my late Grampa Eddie.  And with that, I cry.  Did you know that moving away from all you know, to somewhere you don't know, with no family, makes you cry?  Often?

Everyone so far here has been so friendly, at our new school, even strangers at the grocery store.  The day before the kids started at their new school, I arrived at the school to pick up forms, and there was the principal, in a suit, holding a pink rose, happily loudly greeting all the students with Happy Valentine's Day and a big smile, standing in front of a large colorful mural painted on the wall.  I said to myself this is gonna be a good new school.  As I write this right now, I start to cry.  Happy, grateful tears.

If you are reading this thinking "Of course you will make new friends!  Of course the new school will be fine!" then I am guessing you, yourself, have never moved
to a new state
where you know no one
and have no family
with two young children.

Because if you had, you would know that it is, quite simply, like moving to Mars.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

First day of new school


That was heartbreaking.

I knew the first day at the new school was going to be.... choose an adjective, hard, difficult, awkward, challenging....

I knew it would take a LOT of getting used to.

But somehow I had not braced myself for this.

The moment the minivan door closed, Ashley burst into tears.

And began her list of all the hard moments.

She said someone had yelled at her for being late for dismissal.  I told her I would find out what happened.  Aidan wanted me to go in right then and there and find out what happened.  (I loved that big brother instinct in him.) 

She said there were so many things that were different, recess before lunch?!, snack in the afternoon?!

She said she wanted to go back to her (much loved) 1st grade teacher's class in our previous town, in our previous state.



In the car it took all I had not to burst into tears myself.  For her.

Instead, I parked the car, came to her side, and hugged her.

I told her I completely understood how hard it all was, how much change this all was, how many things were different, how she missed her old teacher and her old class and her old school.

Aidan scowled and frowned and said everything was weird and strange and different.

We got home.  Daddy and our doggies were there, familiar cartoons were on, things were calmer.

When I tucked her in that night of the first day of new school, she said to me "I don't want to live in Massachusetts."



I know that all of this is "normal."  I know that people move.  I know that children move.  I know this very well because I changed schools myself many times during my childhood.  And every single time it was hard.

I let my kids know that I've experienced what they are going through, as a child myself, and I remember very well what it feels like, so they will know I can relate, firsthand.

During this whole process of 3 months of knowing we were moving, I've told them over and over that all of their emotions were normal, and they could tell me all they were feeling, all of it, and that it was okay to feel mixed emotions: excited, scared, sad, nervous.  I'm glad they talked about everything they were feeling, everyday, between when we found out in August that we were moving, to now having moved.

I know that one of my jobs as a parent, as a mother, is to teach them to be tough, to be strong, to embrace change, to learn how to handle new situations.....

And you know what my heart says?  Blah, blah, blah, to all of that, I just want to protect them.

I've had a veryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy hard time during these 9 years so far of parenthood learning that I am not going to be able to, nor am I supposed to, protect them from hard experiences, hard emotions, loss. 

But, I know that I have to accept it.

The next morning when we arrived at school, and I parked, she told she did not want to get out of the car.

So, in a new spirit of pluck and encouragement, rather than go the hug and cuddle route, I put on my Ma Ingalls hat, and said in a chipper voice "I know, this is all a big adventure for all of us, Daddy is driving into work for the first time today, so we are all being brave and strong!"

And held my breath until dismissal.

They got into the car chattering away, telling me all about their day and their specials and the playground.  And exhale.

Perhaps tougher moms are reading this and chuckling and thinking "Oh honey, you gotta lighten up, sister!"  But that's not me.  I'm the worrier, the is-everything-okay-'er, the how-can-I-make-it-better-'er.  We all get to choose the kind of parent we are gonna be.  Or maybe we have no choice at all in the kind we naturally are.... but we gotta add parts that are necessary.

One of my favorite blog writers titled her blog "Motherhood is not for wimps."  Amen to that, sister.

We are in our home!

"You done good, Craigy."

Thank you for all you've done for your family, my husband.
Thank you for working in Boston for 3 months, while missing us.
Thank you for spending many weekends in MA finding a home for us.
And thank you for finding THIS home.

We are IN LOVE with our new house!

The kids love it!  Aidan ran around in circles in the family room, and made "snow angels" on the carpet, yelling how much he loved our new house!  (but this is not new behavior, as he is cuckoo everyday! lol!)  I love it!  Craig loves it!

And the yard.

Now begins what will probably be eons and eons of me writing about the yard.


It feels like living in a national forest.

It feels like living in the woods.

And I love that. A LOT.

At night it is silent, like camping.  At night I can see many more stars, like camping.

I love woods.  I have always loved woods.  I have realized that about myself the last 12 years, while living surrounded by many wooded areas in New Jersey.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, to ALL of my friends and loved ones and family members who
laughed together with
cried together with
brought coffee
brought donuts
brought soup
and were totally THERE for me/us during this loooong transition.

I could NOT have done it WITHOUT all of you!! xoxo

We made it to the finish line!

We are HOME!

We all feel so grateful.  So glad to be all back together again.  So glad to have the blessing of this home.  So glad that our very senior citizen doggies are still with us.  So grateful.

I will write more another day, I have to go be in the yard now!

This was the view out my window as I woke up first time in our new home.
I took it as a good sign.

big rocks in our yard

I love stone walls!

I love the huge boulders in our yard!

our first night in our new home!

just hours after moving in, it felt so nice to already have
our table with tablecloth, and cozy pjs.

a girl and a girl dog

Cracking up!
trying out their new sled, sans snow (when will it snow again?!)

my beloved Dakota

my 2 cutiepies in their new yard

yard is half grass and half woods type thing

We're here! And it's *#%@* cold here!

Okay, so will any of us be surprised that my very first thought, and therefore first sentence of my first blog post from my new state of Massachusetts, is......

It is cold.

Very cold.

People, out for their weekend leisure walks, are wearing ski masks.


With the windchill, it is 13.


hee hee hee!

Is that sound of me cracking?!  Did all the pressure of the last several months lead up to me snapping, crackling, popping, my sanity, while seeing ski masks?!


It is February.  In Massachusetts.  Of course I knew it would be cold.  Freezing cold.  Ahhh, the hilarity of all the New Jerseyans teasing me how much colder it was in Massachusetts!  Me, the California-beach-lovin' girl?  I thought I had it down.  Had it handled.  Had it beat.  Um, hullo?!  I've been living in New Jersey for 12 years people!  My blood has thickened!  A LOT.

And then I got here.

And saw MASKS.

Here's me, with my flimsy regular winter hat.

Massachusetts weather LAUGHS at this hat.

I texted this to some friends to show I had safely arrived.
(and yes, to a fellow-coffee-loving friend, hence DD in background!)

Okay, um, Liz, are you going to tell us anything else besides the temperature?!

Oh, right.  My brain is indoors now, and has defrosted.

Our caravan of 2 cars, 2 adults, 2 kids and 2 dogs, survived the journey.

Another day I will regale you with tales of a dog getting into people food, and all that resulted...

But I digress.

We survived driving away from our home.  Ashley and I hugged the house. Yes, we did.

I had already said a lot of goodbyes to our house, and our tree in the yard, and all our wonderful friends, and then the moment came to shut the door.  For the final time.  Aack, I cannot even type this without getting misty-eyed again.  I hugged Craig in the threshold of our doorway, and then got on with it.

We are here.  We have survived motel life.  (No offense to motels, but I am not a fan. I find them usually grimy and not clean and etc.... we needed a dogs allowed motel.... I found this one clean and not skeevy. (how do I spell that?  should I refer to a junior high school dictionary?  am i too old to use that term?)

I knew it would take time for all of us to get adjusted, but I don't think I knew how shell-shocked we would all feel. 
I have been saying that phrase a lot lately.  "Wait, what?!"  Apparently I did not coin this phrase, (yes, I know I did not!), because Craig purchased for me a tshirt with this slogan on the front.

Another phrase occurred to me, when seeing ski masks during 13 degree windchill: "This was not in the brochure."  hee hee, Welcome to Massachusetts, Liz! Get used to it!

We went out to dinner our first night.  This photo (dark cell phone pic) made my heart smile, "A family reunited."

And I texted this pic, of this glorious margarita, to my girlfriends, letting them know I was officially celebrating reaching the finish line!  (those of you squeamish about any and all alcohol references will probably feel the need to avert your eyes often on my blog, because I make frequent humorous (attempt at humorous?) references to alcohol in my life!)

Even though we arrived on Saturday afternoon, we did not go see our new house until
Sunday.  The kids and I had never seen our new home in person, only online photos.  This was one of the surreal/unique/frustrating/put-on-your-big-girl-pants parts of this move.  Craig helped out his family by being in MA and searching for the right house for his family.  My wonderful girlfriend and her husband offered to watch our kids while I flew up to look for houses, but, for many reasons, it just was not the right decision to try and do this, the main one being that I did not want my very geriatric and sore joints dogs to have to spend time in a kennel.

It was wonderful to see the outside of our house today in person, but we are not able to access inside the house until tomorrow.

So, here I am, at the crack of dawn, on the day I will both see the inside of our new house for the first time in person, and the day I will move into our new home!

When next you hear from me, I will be HOME!

Massachusetts, here we come!

It has been such a loooong road, and we are ALMOST at the finish line.

August... Craig accepted a job in Boston.

August... We took the kids to visit Massachusetts, their first time, and saw many houses with our realtor during our weekend there.

September... the kids began school, knowing there would be another "first day of school" once we moved.

November... Craig began working in Boston, living at a corporate apartment.  He often could not come home to visit on weekends, because he and our realtor were out looking at houses.

The kids missed their Daddy terribly.

I missed my husband terribly.

He missed all 3 of us terribly.

It has been a looooong 3 months.

But here we are.  February 2012.  The movers loaded up that gynormous moving van.  They drove away with all our worldly possessions.  And of course for me, Sentimental Suzy, it is not the material possessions that would matter if somehow lost on that truck, it is instead all the precious irreplaceable memory items.  I am taking with me in my hands the family home movies.  Craig had to convince me to allow the moving van to carry every other precious items of baby and wedding and family importance.

Saying my own goodbyes at their school was even more emotional than I had expected. Hugs and well wishes from teachers, principal and children... so hard.  This self-portrait of myself from that day sums it up: I look tired but relieved that we all have survived this long wait, and that we are final able to march forward into this new adventure, all 4 of us, together. 

The house is empty.  It is the morning we are going to drive away.  My girlfriend had told me weeks ago that she could not imagine the moment of us having to drive away from our home.  We moved here when Aidan was 2 1/2 years old, when Ashley was 8 months old.  This is the only house they remember.  They've seen photos of our previous house, the house which welcomed them home from the hospital after birth.

It was awful for my heart as their mother to witness their reaction when we told them in August, as gently as possible, that we were going to move.  To another home.  To another state.  To a state they had never been to before.  Away from all they have ever known. Goodbye to school, teachers, friends, church, activities.

Although it has seemed way too long of a wait from August until now to get this move and change over with, in the last few days I have realized it may have had a benefit.  It has given the children, and the adults, a long time to get used to the idea, to say goodbye, to begin letting go.

Ouch, letting go.  One of my least favorite phrases on planet Earth.  And yes, I know it is also one of the most important actions we must learn as humans beings.  But still... ouch.

Here we go.  2 cars, 2 adults, 2 kids and 2 dogs.

I'll see you in Massachusetts.