When Your Child Discovers The Big Lie

Standing in the toy aisle in Kohl’s and concentrating on which item to buy for a friend’s son’s birthday, I hesitated before asking my son to repeat what he had just said.

“Can you repeat what you just said, but can you whisper it to me?” If it was what I thought it was, I didn’t want his 5 year old brother to overhear.

“I know that Santa’s not real, Mom.”

The color likely drained from my face as it was probably the last thing I was expecting him to say at that moment, but it was, in fact, what I thought he had just said.

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“Ok, if you want to have this discussion, it has to be in private, with both me and your father. It needs to be away from your brother.”

“Oh! So you’re saying he isn’t then? I knew it!” His voice getting more shrill with each word.

“I said let’s talk about this later. Now is not the time.”

Thankfully, he forgot about it.

Two weeks later, after walking in the door from school, he reminded me that he wanted to have that talk. He said he knew about Santa and the Tooth Fairy because he had set up his iPad to video us sneaking around.

“That’s bologna.” I said. He smiled and admitted to fibbing.

“Well, I know they’re not real because you say you will tell Santa if we are misbehaving. That made me realize you’re lying. How could you tell Santa? It’s not like you have his phone number. What you think you can fool me by saying you’ll just dial him up? Or email him! It’s lies!”

“We’ll talk about it at bedtime.” I silenced him for the moment.

At bedtime, his father and I sat down and told him in so many words that he was right. Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny were pretend magical stories to make the holidays and losing teeth more fun and special for children. It was a lie coming from a good place (uh, confusing), and he would understand one day and do the same for his children.

Anger was the emotion that seemed to settle right in when we confirmed the bad news. He got emotional and went on to say he was hurt and surprised we had lied to him for 8 years. Then my husband corrected him and said, “Well, actually 9. We lied for 9.” Thank you, husband.

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He pushed us away when we tried to hug him. We didn’t “deserve” hugs. We were horrible parents. He was sulking like an irritated teenager. Then he asked about Elf on the Shelf which we only started doing these last two Christmases. He seemed more upset about the Elf for some reason. We gave him the ol’ “you can help keep the magic going and be part of it for your brother now…” spiel and it simply ignited more upsetment.

“How can you ask me to LIE to my own BROTHER? What kind of parents ARE you?” The drama was over the top. I wanted to laugh, but then I couldn’t, because he was so genuinely upset, the humorous vibe evaporated. We explained that he better not tell his brother or his friends.

The saga continued as he ran into our bedroom and grabbed his framed baby picture off of my nightstand and stared at it. I felt like we were in REM’s “Everybody Hurts” music video except it was, “J’s found out there’s no Santa.” This was like a made for TV moment.

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For the first time, we didn’t get a warm goodnight (he’s a lovey dovey kid), and we were sad about this phase being over. We shuffled back to the living room feeling a sort of grief only parents that have just gone through this experience can understand. It was the end of an era, which is sad for parents too. As your children go through different phases, some good and some bad, when the phases come to an end, there is a small sense of mourning. Not really for the bad phases though… adios to those!

We thought about any possible way to lift his spirits. Since our son had stayed home sick that day, we didn’t know if he had made drama club.The school had a lottery system in which they select children who are interested at random and there are a limited number of spots. My husband posted on the school’s parent group on Facebook to see if there was a way to find out and wa-la (thank you Facebook and the parent who got right back to us) we found out he had made it!

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We agreed to tell our son right away in hopes to cheer him up, but he was pretty stoic after we shared the good news. He wanted to crash in our bed for the night which he hasn’t done for years. He kept saying he didn’t know how he would fall asleep because this was the worst day of his life.

The next morning he was still thinking about it and said to his dad, ” So what’s up with the Santa tracker then?” It was obviously still on his mind. So much for hoping it would pass!

I guess with parenting, one never knows how much something will impact their child until it actually happens. My son clearly believed HARD in the magical things we told him about. For that I’m glad because those years were SO MUCH FUN. This was definitely a learning experience. The anger carried on the entire next day, but slowly it dissipated and we got him to agree not to tell his friends or his brother. I do believe we just witnessed his first major disappointment in life. Sure he’s had other let downs, but nothing to this degree. Of course there will be many more to come. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s so interesting what we learn from parenting. It’s a front row seat to the growing changing of the human being you’ve created-physically, mentally, and emotionally. You can’t help but be riveted, worried, and grateful simultaneously during the whole experience. Hopefully, we can still get a few more years of Santa, the bunny, and the Tooth Fairy with our youngest!

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Second Chances- 2017 A Year in Review

Driving back from Bradley Airport in Connecticut was usually uneventful. This time I had dropped my sister off to catch her flight back to Chicago after her Christmas visit. My youngest son, then 3, was sitting in his car seat in the back. It was a cold, snowy, day and the roads were wet. I clenched the steering wheel, white knuckled, since my tires were ridiculously bald. Buying new tires has always been a pet peeve of mine-it is such an unfun, expensive thing to spend money on. I had been warned by my mechanic, my husband, and members of my husband’s family, that my tires were in desperate need of being replaced.

I pulled off to grab a quick bite with my little guy and returned a call to one of my co-workers before getting back on the highway. About 5 miles or so from my exit, I completely lost control of the car. My tires hydroplaned on what I assume was black ice, and my car fishtailed for a split second.  From there, we went into a complete spin. I saw faces of oncoming drivers, squeezed my eyes shut, and braced for an impact I was sure would end both of our lives. I believe we spun one and a half times because of the way the car ended up positioned. We were heading sideways into the guardrail. When I realized that miraculously no one had hit us, I frantically pressed the brake and the accelerator. Unfortunately,  my car would only coast. It was in some kind of neutral function and nothing seemed to work with the exception of the steering wheel. The car was coming to a very dangerous slow speed with cars flying around us -honking and flashing their lights. A man in a pick up truck next to me rolled down his window with a look of total exasperation and shouted, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Are you OK? Oh my God! Pull Over! Pull Over! Oh my God!”

I felt paralyzed. I started screaming and talking to myself and everything looked and felt blurry. Not sure if things can feel blurry, but that is the best description that comes to mind. We had just escaped certain death by 20 cars hitting us from every direction. It seemed improbable good luck would strike twice, and I was convinced we would now die going 25 mph on the packed highway in the snow with bald tires while I was going into shock-incapable of maneuvering a car.

Somehow, the car began to pick up speed little by little again and came out of the self inflicted neutral mode. An exit was coming up and I had to cross 3 lanes of traffic to get there. It felt like running the gauntlet in slow motion to get across those lanes. I made it across and parked the car at the bottom of the ramp. I cried for what felt like a really long time. I got out of the car and went in the backseat and hugged my son and cried harder. He stared at me, confused by my tears and unfazed by the whole experience (he had been asleep).

I called my husband to come get us.  Needless to say, new tires were bought the next day. Unfun and expensive new tires, that I will never miss a beat on buying ever again.

Ringing in the New Year felt surreal last year following this experience. No matter how I dissected that incident, it just didn’t seem possible my son and I should have lived given the circumstances.

For about a week after it happened I just kept wondering if we were spared for a reason. Was there something else we needed to do here on earth before leaving it? My thoughts were heavy with what if’s, why’s, and how’s. But there was something else that wouldn’t leave me-the thought that I was going to have to make some significant changes in 2017.

Given this second chance, it seemed whole-heartedly stupid to allow or partake in anything that brought me down or sapped my happiness. If life is already too short, and you got a second chance at it, you sure as hell aren’t going to muddle through the sludge anymore.

I said to myself that no matter what:  I would find a way to leave my miserable job,practice being more present with my family, dance more, write more, call friends more instead of texting them,continue my efforts in training my brain via meditation (still much work to do on this one), stop putting so much energy into fickle people who put in one tenth of the effort, hike more with my kids, give myself a break and realize some things can simply wait until tomorrow.

Now that 2017 is almost behind me, I can look back and say it was a year of much personal growth. Quitting the job did actually happen (thank you dear husband), little to no toxic people are in any of my circles (yay because that means my picker hasn’t been off). The people around me-they are there because they want to be, not because I chase them down and put in all the effort.

2017 was a year of reflection. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, from our inspirations, and from our past, then we are doomed. We are the opposite of self aware. We are eternally stuck. Reflection is ongoing and fluid and each year should always be a year of reflection in my opinion.

It wasn’t a perfect year by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a year of change, reflection, and growth. It was a year that in its final months gave the priceless gift of more time with my children. It was the first year I started actively slowing down and asking myself what kind of self care I engaged in that week. It was the first year of noticing the difference between what’s truly important versus what insignificant BS floods the mind. It was the year my husband showed up like a superhero in a cape and helped me not when it counted, but too many times to count (I’ll always wonder if he has any sense of the magnitude of my gratitude…that weirdly rhymed). And last but certainly not least,  it was the year I really started to pay attention.

“Pay Attention To What You are Paying Attention To.” – Howard Rheingold

AFTERTHOUGHT

Hopefully all of you reading this drive safely this New Year’s Eve and New Year. Play a game quickly after reading this and ask yourselves if you were to cease to exist tomorrow, what have you been paying the most attention to? How would you be remembered? Do your friends and family know you love them? Are you doing right by yourself and taking care of yourself in the way you should? Are you putting your happiness on hold in hopes that good fortune will knock on your door one day and rain down upon you? Are you living or existing? Is the effort reciprocated in most, if not all of your friendships? After answering these questions, will you change your perspective going into 2018? Food for thought.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

Embarking On The Unknown; A Career Path

At the age of 16 or 17 most kids have to start thinking about and actually decide what field they want to be in for work. This, of course, is the whole college selection journey that begins with picking a school, a minor, and a major. In the end the hope is obviously that a job will come along in said field. Some teenagers have a solid conviction of what they’ve always wanted to be, but it’s typical to be pretty clueless. It’s only a decision that impacts the rest of your life, but you’ve been on the planet 16 years…so….you’ve got this.  You have to start to hone in on what you think you might like to do all day, while also getting paid a decent wage. Those things don’t necessarily go together, but nonetheless, at the wise age of 16 we dive into our best guess.

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My bedroom was painted royal blue. I had a thing for the color blue back then. The ceiling was smothered with Rolling Stone magazine covers end to end. I absolutely loved Mark Saliger’s photos. I poured over the Rolling Stone interviews imagining that someday I would be the author to many music legend interviews. I wondered what I wanted to do with my life and often stared up at my ceiling hoping I would some day end up at Rolling Stone. I decided that since writing was something I loved and I got good grades in that subject, I’d be best at a journalism. I also remember thinking that whatever I majored in, I’d have to make sure there was as little math involved as possible. Legitimately, that was a concern for me since math never was my strong suit.

I started out at community college due to finances. My dream had been to go to the University of Southern California, but I quickly realized that picking a college simply because I wanted to go there was a luxury that was not in the cards.  When I signed up for our local community college, I felt disenchanted. My dreams of moving away to Cali had been pushed aside. In my mind, I had big plans for myself. One year later, I ended up attending a university in Illinois about 4 hours from home.

One afternoon, I visited the placement office at community college to nail down a major. The office was filled with shelves of books about every possible occupation under the sun. I went and thumbed through a couple, finally settling in on Public Relations Specialist. 

I read the description over and over and looked at the average salary of $70,000 a year.

“Wow, that is SO much money.” The wheels were in serious motion in my head, “I’ll be rich!” I was sure I was going to be poppin’ bottles with P. Diddy and J. Lo. The words in job description bounced up and down on the page with excitement right at me. Media, Radio, Television, Writing, Celebrity, Top Executives, Relationships, Communication. Whatever this job description was selling, I was buying with all of the tip money in my pocket.  It all sounded so glamourous! $70K to my 18 year old self also sounded like a million dollars, ah, how things change…but I digress.

It listed the majors and minors  for this type of role. And guess what? There was hardly any math involved.  I signed up to major in journalism with a minor in marketing. I felt my planning was thorough since I had a plan A and a plan B. Plan A would be to try to become a writer for Rolling Stone, while plan B would be the PR Specialist gig that had dazzled me dizzy. I knew I would minor in marketing because it had been my father’s major and he had turned out successful, so why not? That was the amount of thought I put into my minor.  I chose it blindly with a whole lot of gusto.

Basically that describes my entire decision making process- from start to finish.

I loved my classes, there was just one smidgeon of a problem. While in my journalism class we were writing about Princess Diana’s death that had been all over the news. The professor went on at length about the long hours journalists put in, the sometimes life or death situations,  and the right and wrong decisions they’d have to make in certain circumstances (case in point with Diana). I was riveted and wondered if my job at Rolling Stone would be that way. I committed in my mind to do whatever it took. But it was something else he said that changed my course right then and there-literally.

“Who in this class loves writing?” He had a deep voice that carried out of the class and into the hallway.

“OK, now who in this class wants to make money in this profession?” His wry smile curled.

This next part I am paraphrasing; I cannot remember his exact words.

“Those who kept your hands up for the second question need to change your majors right now. You will be poor as a journalist. This is a fact unless you strike gold somehow. I will spell it out for you folks- you will barely make enough money to live and you will work like a dog. You have to live, breathe, and die by writing, accepting that you will likely not make much money.”

I changed my major that following week. I had watched my mom work her butt off and struggle as a hairdresser ever since her and my Dad divorced. In addition to that, my Dad had dropped a scary amount of weight when the real estate market took a nose dive in the mid eighties. For many months,  when we’d stay at his condo,  we’d have fish sticks with ketchup for dinner during that ailing time in his career. I didn’t want to live on fish sticks if I had anything to do about it. Money struggles legitimately scared me, and I would need to pick something that was more reliable. So I said goodbye to my dream of writing. I chose to major in Communications and Human Relations, which I was still pretty happy with.

In the end, I feel fortunate. I ended up picking a major that was right for me and has served me well since it lends itself to many career paths (and there was no math).

If I could change one thing, it would likely have been my minor in marketing. I think I should have minored in English Lit or something else specific to writing. Then again, maybe without that emphasis in marketing I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of working for one of the best marketing firms around. It was an incredibly fun learning experience  and was chock full of good people and amazing volunteer opportunities. I do wonder if I didn’t have that minor of marketing on my resume, would I have gotten that job? I remember the head hunter setting me up for the interview (as a temporary receptionist) and mentioning it was good that I had that on my resume. I did end up getting asked to interview for an Executive Assistant role there while temping, which then lead me to an Account Executive role and later a Sr. Account Executive position.  I guess you never know where your path will lead you!

Along the course of different positions I’ve had over the years at various companies, I can say that I’ve pinned down what I dislike: spreadsheets and data entry. Does anyone like this? If you do, bless your heart. I’ve also come to know what I’m not so good at; being analytical. A double whammy of things I loathe was putting analytical data into spreadsheets. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. It felt like I was dying a slow death. Now imagine putting data into a system that was 14 years old that crashed all the time. OK,  I’ll stop now. I can already tell you feel my pain.

What have I learned that I am sharing with you? Ask your teenagers what they like to do, what they could do for years to come without tiring of it, what their weaknesses are, and what they know they despise doing.  It’s impossible for them to narrow it down perfectly since they haven’t had enough life experience or job experience yet, but I do believe it will still help.

If you’ve been out of school now for quite sometime and are looking to overhaul your professional life like I just did-ask yourself those same questions. Realistically, if you’re like me and have a family to support, there will be different variables to weigh in your decision making process.

I’m going to be forty in a year and a half. In my opinion, it took me way too long to figure out the things I should have run the opposite direction from job wise. Lean into your strengths even if it means you won’t get a handsome financial reward. Sure I’ve had to compromise and downsize a bit, but there’s no price tag on happy.

When I think back to what my professor said that day, I wonder if I hadn’t listened to it how things would be different. It’s not a feeling of regret at all, it’s just curiosity. It’s apparent that the writing landscape has definitely changed.  After the 19 years of job and life experience I’ve had since that day, I’ve learned that there are many different options.

It  helps to look into your options, think about them, ask people about their professions, etc. You can still do the things you enjoy without being paid for them.  I am able to be a writer today just for fun.  The fact that writing, people, and creativity are actively part of my life makes me feel richer than ever, even if in the dollar sense that’s not the case.

“The greatest wealth is to live content with little, for there is never want where the mind is satisfied.”- Lucretius