What really matters in life: A Life lesson from Jessie Spano and Claire Huxtable

Lately I have been feeling a little down. Not in the “woe is me” sort of way, but in a “how did I get myself into this” sort of way. I’ve been feeling unlike my self and as a result, a lot of things I have wanted to write about just aren’t finished because I haven’t given them the complete thought that they need.

Which brings me to Jessie Spano.

I don’t know if you all will remember that Saved By the Bell episode, but it is etched in my head like a microchip was inserted. Elizabeth Berkeley captured a moment I have been feeling for the past few months.

In trying to show my dedication to my work life, I have felt like my home life has suffered. No I haven’t felt. I KNOW my home life has suffered as a result. Missed Dr.’s appointments, kids being late to school or being picked up late, arriving home late so I don’t have time for my husband and overall spending zero time with my kids are all things that have happened over these last few months. Like Jessie in that Saved by the Bell episode, I keep feeling like “There isn’t enough time”. I never have enough time for any of the things that interest me outside of work. I’m not talking about selfishly galavanting around town (although that would do wonders for my inner being right now) I’m talking about spending quality time with the people I love most in the world. Even though I like what I do professionally, to me family and friends are what make your life, not what you do. This is also what makes me a little sad. Because I know I can’t get these moments with family and friends back. If I don’t keep in touch with friends on a regular basis, they go on with their lives and close friends all of a sudden become distant, no matter how many drunk nights, close secrets and clothes you have shared. As we get older, those relationships need to be maintained, not forgotten about.

My time with family definitely can’t be recreated. Did you ever see the movie Click?

This movie made me cry at the end. AN ADAM SANDLER MOVIE MADE ME CRY. Let’s just think about that for a moment. The point being, I love my kids. I don’t want to fast forward through their existence only to find children I don’t recognize anymore and children that don’t know me. That’s not how I grew up and it’s not how I envisioned my life as a parent to be.

So why am I referencing Saved By the Bell and The Cosby Show in the same blog post? Because they were my existence growing up, that’s why.  I don’t really need a reason other than they were two of the best shows on air as a kid.  That I would reference both in the same blog post is like a dream come true. Sorry, I digress.

The enviable and unattainable Claire Huxtable, that’s why.

Searching-For-Clair-Huxtable-vol1-1267153396

She was the supermom we all aim to be.  Claire was and still is regarded by many as the epitome of womanhood.  A strong feminist, a lovely and doting wife, a supportive and caring but firm mother, She was everything. But trying to be her will kill us.

In my idealistic nature, I remember my mother as the doting parent.  She was the person who dropped us off and picked us up from school. The person who attended all of our school theatrical performances, attended all of our athletic sports games, was part of the PTA, and even accompanied us on numerous field trips.  She was the person who helped us out with homework, talked about bullies and did our hair.

But guess what?  She was also the person who fed us TV dinners for months on end, who took us to her university classes at night so she could get her degree, and gave us Gheri curls because it made it easier to do our hair.  Those pictures are in a guarded safe and will NEVER come out.

But real moments like those that showed Claire as not being picture perfect were never aired on the Cosby show.  The kids showed up and showed out from time to time, but never Claire. Why?  Because Claire ALWAYS had time. If she didn’t, Cliff was right there to pick up the pieces.  What happens when your Cliff or Claire fails to pick up those pieces?

I’ll tell you what happens.  Resentment. Disappointment. Feeling like a Failure.

She was a black woman who was a partner at a New York law firm back in the 80′s.  I’m sorry, but if anyone knows of any black women lawyers who were partners and worked in NY back in the 80′s who had ample time to raise and impart knowledge on her 5 well adjusted children, then I will erase this blog and everything I said in it.  But if you don’t, then that would make this read by Mychal Denzel Smith at least interesting.  I don’t believe we need to kill her as Brittney Cooper suggests, but we need to give the real life Claire’s some REAL slack at work and at home.  Parents aren’t perfect, they are far from it. But damn if we aren’t doing the best we can.  When work life and home life both demand you give your everything, something will inevitably fail.  Which is why Claire as a character made for great TV, but in real life, she can never be attained.

Let me set the record straight.  I’m not trying to set low expectations for how people see themselves or how people want to be seen.  I’m saying, in the real world, the expectations you have of your career woman who has 5 children and who has ample time to devote to raising, caring, spending time and nurturing those 5 children will be quickly shattered because it’s not humanly possible to be both.  Something will fall.  There have been ample publications that suggest this.  Trying to live up to what Claire embodied sometimes makes me want to have a Jessie Spano freak out from time to time.  Do you want your wife to have a Jessie Spano freak out because she’s trying to be Claire and “Do it all”? No.  So it might be a worthy read to ingest differing opinions on how we view this mythical Cosby Show goddess and adjust our own beliefs as partners and parents about what we can and cannot do in life.

Family is very important to me.  So if that means I might have to re-adjust my own inner Claire to tame down the Jessie. So be it.

In A Sentimental Mood…

Sept11

Today marks the 13th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC.

I have never told my account of the day that forever changed the US, but i’m in a sentimental mood…

I was freshly out of college and was a n associate in the media office at the National Academies, a government think tank for science, engineering and medicine in Washington, DC.  That day, I remember we were extremely busy, so I was at work before 8am.  There were lines of media trucks at the building, waiting for this important stem cell study to come out, a study that basically said that we have the capability to clone body parts.  That study never saw a single camera flash.  At around 8:00am, the fire alarms went off in the building.  We had to evacuate.  As everyone was ushered outside, I remember feeling like this was a strange day for a fire alarm exercise, especially knowing that this study was coming out.  Less then 10 minutes later, the building shook right in front of my eyes.  I had never seen anything like it.  We thought that the “fire” had destroyed a part of the building.  Nothing else moved, but this concrete, completely stable building.  It was unnerving.  Ten minutes later, we were told we could enter the building.  We had been monitoring the news the entire morning, waiting for news outlets to talk about the stem cell breakthough report. What we saw on our computer screens when we came back to the office was horrifying.  Reports of a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York.  Then, The second plane hit.  I actually watched it crash into the building.  As we watched the reports of what was going on, we had no idea that a plane had already crashed into the Pentagon.

Remember the building shaking?  The National Academies sits right across the river from the Pentagon.  Probably less than 3 miles away.  I believe our building shook because of the plane crash, not because of some fire in our building.  Then we received reports that a car bomb was set to go off at the State Department.  The National Academies sits directly across the street from the State Department. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center did so by accident.

All of a sudden, we were told to evacuate.  But before we even left, we were told that traffic was jammed so there would be no way to get our cars out of the parking lot.  Any attempts at taking the subway were quickly diminished as well.  The government shut down all of the subway stations downtown.  Dressed in my business suit and heels, my co-workers and I quietly filed out of the office, taking our belongings with us. As we left the office, I saw swarms of co-workers quickly walking out of the door.

Walking home was painful, but it was surprisingly communal.  Everyone was out in the street walking home because of gridlocked streets and shut down subways.  I talked to people who I didn’t know at all.  We shared a common fear and morning experience.  No one could use their phone service, text was just barely working.  You’d be surprised at the level of friendliness that people extend when tragedy sets.  People helped each other find ways to get home.  Those who’s text were working helped older men and women and children reach their relatives.  For a town that barely talks to one another especially on the street, It actually felt like a family for once in the streets of DC.  I was only able to reach my sister who was attending Howard University at the time, and she told me that school was closed and she was at our apartment that we shared.  When I finally got home, I was extremely tired, my feet felt like pins were still sticking them and I was probably still in shock.

What the hell just happened?

My sister had the news on and we were glued to the station.  She was able to text both of our parents and some extended family that we were together and safe.  I actually didn’t realize that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon until I was at home watching the reports.  It was then that I learned two minutes before our building shook, the Pentagon across the pond had been attacked as well.

I remember feeling a sigh of relief that neither the State Department nor the National Academies had been attacked. I was distraught seeing people jump out of buildings to their deaths.  It was grotesque and I couldn’t imagine the decision those people had to come to, to realize that their final day on earth was that day.  I felt forever connected to those in New York that were experiencing a more harrowing trauma even though our experiences were dramatically different. I cannot imagine seeing co-workers jumping out of buildings, narrowly escaping a building collapsing on your head, losing loved ones, and being covered in soot for miles as you head in to work.  But those of us in DC and New York remain a part of the community with first hand accounts of what happened the tragic morning of September 11th.

Exposing Vulnerabilities

I can’t swim.

There i’ve said it.  See, along time ago, when I was a child, I was taking swim lessons. One day, the lesson must’ve been holding your breath under water.  Well, I missed that instruction, or maybe I didn’t know how to hold my breath, or maybe I just forgot.  I remember all of us kids in the water, each with our handler holding us.  Then all of a sudden I got dumped under water.  There might have been a 1,2, 3, but I don’t remember it.  There might’ve even been a “Okay, now hold your breath!” But I don’t remember it.  All I remeber is swallowing water, trying to let the person holding me know that I didn’t hold my breath, that I didn’t remember.  I rememeber flailing my arms and legs.  That time under water felt like an eternity.  I felt like I was dying and I didn’t even know what dying was.  It was the scariest and most vulnerable moment in my life.  My life was in someone else’s hands and it was uncomfortable, it didn’t feel good.  Instead of gear up for the next day ready to learn, I screamed and kicked my way out of it.  I ran, never to take a swim lesson again.

I have recently gone through an exercise in exposing one’s vulnerabilities.  Time will tell on how well I have actually handled it.  But I hope that it will serve as a reminder that life is not stagnant, it is a constant ball of motion and any number of variables can change the course of how you perceive a situation to be.

I know, i’m talking in abstract terms, but I hope you get my drift.   I like to be in control.  In general I like to be in control of what i’m doing, who i’m affecting, what i’m saying and how that is being perceived.  When I lose a any part of that control, it unnerves me.  Which is why when I was younger, I never wanted to go back to swim lessons.  I couldn’t control what the teacher would do, I couldn’t control what I was going to do in class and I didn’t have enough skill to swim on my own.  I gave up, very easily.  I think most people, when they lose control of a situation retreat.  No one wants to go into a situation knowing that you will not know or do or say the right thing.   I think that anytime you expose yourself, whether it be emotionally, physically or mentally there is a part of you that is very hesitant at first to let the world see that part of you.

Right now my life is being exposed more than ever, and it’s more than a little uncomfortable,  but so far i’m getting through it.  Blame my shyness coupled with Introversion. To me this serves as a lesson I need to teach my kids.  That life tends to be uncomfortable, and it’s how you get through the uncomfortable times that shows your true grit.  As an adult, as a mom, right now my kids are at the age where everything I do is perfect, I can do no wrong.  But after the rose colored glasses fade they will get to the point where they see a true adult with vulnerabilities.  I hope they can learn to appreciate the flaws.  Way after I teach them how to swim.

 

What a difference a year makes

I have been truly humbled.

Today marks the One year anniversary of one of my best friend’s sobriety.  One year ago today was a very dark period in her life.  Usually I write about motherhood and all of it’s offshoots, but today I can’t help but write about my friend.

We met in college and instantly connected.  We say to people we were roommates, but we actually stayed right next to each other.  We did all of the things that roommates in college do, eat lunch and dinner together, go out together, plan vacations together, celebrate birthdays together, and long after our college days were over, we stayed in touch throughout the years.  We both entered graduate school at the same time, her law school, me film school.

I remember when she left the city and moved to an even bigger city, I would visit her often.  We survived a blizzard together.  We took a 10 day trek across the west coast together.   I remember when she graduated from Law school, she sent me pictures of her graduation and I was sad that I missed her special day.  We try every year to celebrate our birthdays together.  She has planned every major baby/birthday/wedding milestone that i’ve had.

She moved back to the area after she graduated from Law school and like every other person, got a job, and went about the day to day life of a single person living in a city.  I, doing the same, went about my life as well.  Even though we lived in the same city, we would try to talk often and get together as much as possible, but in the day to day bustle of life, plans would get canceled or forgotten, weeks would turn into months, months would turn into years, and before we knew it, we weren’t spending time or talking to each other much at all.

So when she called me a year ago, looking for help to find a new apartment, I didn’t think much of it.  I searched some places, sent her some links, and carried on with my day to day life.  She called again, lamenting about the trouble with her search.  Again, not thinking much of it, I rationalized away her need to just talk through her emotions over moving.  I again suggested places for her to call and placated her with the standard “Everything’s going to be okay” “You’ll find something” “Everything always works out in the end”

Now, before this call, every once in awhile, I would get a random two or four AM text or voicemail from her saying she needed to talk.  But since I was always asleep at the time, I would never get it until at least the next day.  Sometimes I wouldn’t respond until days or weeks later, thinking to myself, “Oh she was probably okay, I don’t think she needed anything that important, I’ll just call her when I get a chance.”

But one day, a year ago, she called me late at night.   I don’t remember what time of day it was, but I remember it wasn’t too late that I was asleep, but late enough to be dark.  She sounded upset.  Normally, I would have tried to calm her down and placate her again with cliche sayings about everything being okay in the end, but this time sounded different.  She was barely cohesive, she would switch between manic and depressive moods in the blink of an eye, her overall conversation was truncated and she was talking about things I knew nothing about.  I called my husband and told him that I was going to stop by her apartment after work just to see if everything was okay.

What I witnessed when I came through the door was not my friend.  The person I saw was the shell of the girl I knew.  Her eyes were empty, she was chain smoking and drinking until oblivion.  Drinking away what?  I will probably never know.  My entire body wanted to start crying.  How did this happen?  How did I not know?  Why did we go so long without getting together regularly or checking up on each other?  I sat down and just listened.  Listened to this person who had taken my friend.  I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know what to say.  I wanted to hug away all of her hurt and pain.  I wanted to take away every emotion that made her go to the bottle.  But I didn’t know how.  I didn’t even know the first steps to helping her.  So I just sat and let her talk.  That night, we sat together and she eventually fell into a drunk sleep.  I called her sister, who she had been talking to earlier in the night, to tell her that she had fallen asleep and left the apartment.  It was almost four AM.  After seeing that, I thought the worst was over.  Man was I ever wrong.

The next evening, I got a call again.  Again she needed to talk.  I stopped by a local fast food restaurant to get her something to eat. I went home to explain to my husband that  I would be heading back to her place again.  I was breastfeeding at the time and I couldn’t afford to really be out late for another night, so I went home and got my 3 month old daughter and brought her to my friends house to help her not pick up a drink.  I had no idea if she had or hadn’t been drinking.  I tried to see if there were any bottles or glasses around and there weren’t any.  A family friend who lived in the area stopped by as well.  We would get bits and pieces of a story.  Still not cohesive, still not making much sense, but again, I would just listen, hoping to salvage a story out of her musings.  I left her apartment at three AM that night.  My body was weary. If I put on a strong front for her, it would break down as soon as my driver side car door closed.  That night I just sat in my car for awhile hoping I could get it together enough to drive home.  I had after all, my three month old baby with me, I had to pull it together for her, for me and for my friend.  I cried in spurts all the way home.

When she realized she had a problem, it was a conversation that was simultaneously a relief and hard to ingest.  This person who, for me was so full of life and such a light for others, suddenly found herself needing the help she so frequently gave out.  She was set to go to rehab on Monday morning.  Little did I know what it would take to get there.

Enlisting the help of another mutual friend, together we met at her apartment to begin her journey of healing.  Uneasy at the start, she was hesitant to get in the car.  But once she did we were finally off.  I thought, “This is easy, we only have a quick 20 minute ride and once we get registered, she’ll truly begin the healing process.”

Things took a turn for the worse once we hit traffic.  She began to fall in and out of consciousness reciting biblical scriptures and hallucinating.  In trying to remain sober for me, day three proved to be too much for her.  Not knowing it at the time, my friend was not so quietly going through withdrawal in my car on the way to rehab.  I know now she was most likely suffering from DT’s; delirium tremens.  The death rate from DTs — which are characterized by confusion, rapid heartbeat, and fever — is estimated to range from 1% to 5%.  When I say I was frightened for not only my life, but hers and our friend who was helping us, it would be an understatement.  To see a dear friend switch moods from hysteria to calm to hearing voices to talking to the dead;  again, I didn’t know this person.  I tried to remain as calm and collected as possible.  It took everything in me not to start hysterically crying in the car.  I felt every emotion that she was putting out in the universe and it hurt like a sharp knife in my heart.  I kept repeating to myself in my mind “Just get her to rehab, just get her to rehab” “She’ll get better once we get there.”

But the universe was trying to tell us something different.  In my rush to get to the rehab center, we got into a car crash.  My friends hallucinations got worse.  I can only make up variations of stories in my mind about the lady who hit us wondering why the passenger seemed more upset than I was, but in the moment, I didn’t really care.  I quickly took her info and set back on the path to rehab.  In hindsight that was probably the worst thing I could have done.  Leaving the scene of an accident in which I was of no fault, but I had other pressing matters to attend to.

We finally get to the rehab center and when the staff took a look at her, they knew she was detoxing.  They immediately sent us to the hospital.  The past three days of no alcohol was way too much for her system.  After our mutual friend and I admitted her to the hospital and gave them all her paperwork and accompanying information, we both went down to the hospital cafeteria and just looked at each other.  We couldn’t believe what had just happened.  I remember my mouth moving and us talking to each other, but I don’t remember the conversation we had.  I think we both just wanted to breathe.

After three days at the hospital, she was finally admitted to rehab.  I was relieved.  Her stay there proved to be a much needed worthwhile one.  She has taken this incident and her healing very seriously and for that, I am grateful to finally have my friend back.  It is evident by her dedication to attend meetings and take steps to correct certain prior roadblocks in her life.  When I attended her 1 year sobriety anniversary, all of the depressing emotions of the previous year were replaced by sheer joy.  Like a proud parent at their child’s graduation, happy tears flowed freely.  It’s definitely not over, but i’m proud to say I love her effort so far.

 

Dream Big, Kid.

smc

I was talking with a lawyer who’s a dear friend of mine about our childhood and how she dreamed of being something that she currently wasn’t.  We talked through her real dream, and she finally admitted that she wanted to be a dancer, and she thought of pursuing dance professionally.  I encouraged her to follow that dream, with the hope that she really would to find her passion purpose back in her life.

I remember when I was a child, I wanted to be an actress. I remember fantasizing about what it would be like to be on set of a movie or a television show working with other actors and being praised for being good at it.  I also wanted to get out of my own shadow.  I was incredibly shy and because of that, creating another persona who was charismatic and said all the right lines appealed to me.   As I became a teenager heading off to college, my parents pushed for me to find a profession where I could “get a job” right out of college, so I compromised my dream by focusing on working behind the scenes in entertainment.  I didn’t know exactly what that meant, or how I would do it, but that became the dream that I strived for.

As I was talking to my friend, a lawyer who passed the bar in several states, about her dream career when she was little, she followed a similar thread that I have heard a lot lately.  Her dream of becoming a dancer was quickly quashed by her parents desire for something more “practical”.  The toll for parents paying for college was to find a job post college, not necessarily to pursue a “passion”.   As a parent, I get the reasoning behind it, but I wonder what would happen if our parents had encouraged us to follow our real dreams?

I remember my parents always telling me, “You can do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be, the world is yours”  But when I actually decided to take my parents up on that offer, the tune was quite different.  I remember quite a few questionable looks and hesitant conversations around me going to college to study acting to be a professional actress.  Being the shy person that I was, I quickly conceded to my parents wishes to find something more practical and headed straight for the school of communications.  I figured if I wasn’t going to be an actress, I would at least try to be in a profession that would be close.

She and I had similar experiences.  In fact,  this conversation isn’t a new one among a lot of peers.  The story of many has a similar thread.  The crazy/wild/outlandish dream gets modified by parents who want their sons and daughters to get a practical “job”.  Said dream becomes a footnote in our lives until a life altering event happens where it doesn’t matter anymore and we give up our day jobs to pursue our real passions.   So right now she wants to pursue dancing, and I think that is the best decision that she has made.  Why?  Because once you let go of the fear of saying what you really want to do out loud to people, you become free to actually pursue it sans fear of what anyone else thinks.  I wish more people would do this.  It would save a lot of people from becoming unhappy and unfulfilled doctors, lawyers and executives.

So to my daughter and son who might want to be a space explorer or Alvin Ailey dancer, Dream big, kid.  The world is yours for the taking.

To Spank or Not to Spank: That is the Question

psychology - spanking

This past weekend, I received a compliment I have been waiting to hear for years.  No it wasn’t on my shoes, or clothes or “getting my body back” after baby, whatever that means (trust me, after you have a baby, there is no “body back” no matter how much weight you have lost).  I digress.

As I was leaving a dinner party, filled with adults and kids, a lady walked up to me as I was getting my two children and said, “You have the most well behaved kids!  They are so polite and have great manners, you’re doing such a good job with them.”  Like Lupita Nyong’o at the Academy Awards, I almost broke down and cried my way through an acceptance speech.  “I’d like to thank…” But instead with a sheepish grin I mumbled together something like “Oh thanks!”

I would love to say that I did this all without, as Gwyneth would say, “forcefully disciplining” my children.  I would love to be a part of the chorus that believes that spanking children is not the way to go and the only thing you are doing with spanking is creating more aggressive, fearful children.  But since i’ve used it on my own children, I won’t.

Look, I don’t believe that spanking should be the main form of punishment for a child.  It shouldn’t even be a go-to.  What I will say is that I believe there is a right and a wrong way to discipline your children no matter if you spank them or not.

When I was growing up, both of my parents spanked me.  There was a difference however, in the way that my mother and father carried out that punishment.  Now, before I start ratting out both of my parents, I have love and respect for both of them.  As an educated adult, I understand their belief that spanking would curb certain behaviors.  With that said, My father was a military man.  As the main enforcer of punishment, he was often reactionary, with the thought that any misbehavior would self-correct after a good swat.

My mother on the other hand, took a different approach.  She would rarely spank, but when she did, she would often stop the wrongdoing immediately and delay the punishment.  I always wondered why (I know now the delay was so she could have time to calm down).  Spankings with her usually occurred at night after a long explanation for the reason, so that I fully understood it’s purpose.

So it got me to thinking.  It’s not necessarily spankings, or timeouts, or whatever mode of discipline is new right now.  What children really need is to be talked to, starting at an early age, even if they don’t understand everything right away.   Understanding why you are being punished goes a lot father than passing out the punishment.

I have since tried to model my own life with my children, like my mother did with me and my siblings.  I’m not going to give future predictions, but judging by the world audience, so far it has worked.

 

This piece was originally featured on WTOP’s Parenting page.
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REVIEW: The Animal Boogie

I can’t say enough about this book. It’s fun, it’s playful and my kids love it. The publishers dedication to creating a multicultural audience is one of the main reasons why I have become an ambassador for the publishing company. So Shake, swing, sway, and boogie your way through this book. It truly is a great read for babies and children.

Check out more from the barefoot books line hereImage