The “Firsts” that Come with the Tween Years

In motherhood, there are so many “firsts” that take your breath away. That first time your baby laughs. The first steps a toddler takes to your outstretched arms. The first time your son takes the school bus or your daughter learns how to ride a bike. When I reflect on these moments my heart feels full.

As our kids grow, the “firsts” come less frequently and the time stretched between them lengthen. Instead of celebrating a new milestone, the goal becomes surviving another Monday shuttling your kids to piano, soccer, the library and Tae Kwan Do while serving something edible for dinner in a Tupperware container that is BPA-free, of course. #winning.

And then, out of nowhere, another first occurs. Except this time it doesn’t involve the potty, or school, or sleeping through the night in her very first big girl bed. Instead, it’s the first time your child rips your heart out, tears it to shreds, stomps all over it, and kicks it to the side for good measure.

We worry about what a child will become

Let me explain.

Last night, I shared with my daughter what I thought would be some great news. She was asked to take a placement test for accelerated math. Exciting, right?

My daughter felt differently. She did not want to take this test, and felt that the class would be too difficult for her. She felt challenged enough, and did not want the additional work. Of course I explained to her that she could do anything she put her mind to, and that we could discuss the options after she took the test, but she would have none of it. I continued my lecture. She held her ground.

That’s when she said it.

“I do not want to talk to YOU about this. I do not want to talk to you EVER,” she said flatly.

Ouch.

I know. I couldn’t believe it either. I was shocked, dumbfounded, stunned. I felt like she just slapped me across the face. I asked her if she was sure if she meant it and she nodded her head in the affirmative.

I then told her very maturely, “Well, that can be arranged.” I rose up from my seat, turned on my heel with my head up high and marched myself right out of the room.

It took me about 17 steps before I could feel the tears well up in my eyes as I started the dinner dishes. This was not the relationship I have worked so hard to maintain with my daughters. This was not supposed to happen to me. Maybe other moms who didn’t work so hard at communication, but not me. I was focused on being open and honest with my girls, I used understanding tones and tried not to yell (a lot), I worked hard at being the compassionate mother who “gets it.” Although I ran my house in a sort of dictator-like fashion, my husband and I always worked hard at listening to our kids and ensuring they felt like their opinions mattered.

But we went off the rails. She just gave me the proverbial middle finger and I did the equivalent of the teenage door slam. It may not have been as dramatic as the “I hate you’s” or other verbal barbs that young girls spear throw at their mothers, but to me, well let’s just say it rattled my cage.

I know what you are thinking. This isn’t that big of a deal, and it really isn’t. But it did mark a major milestone in our house. This was the first time one of my daughters openly challenged me about a life decision. It was the first time that she lashed out in a way that was not a tantrum. It was the first time that she strategically struck me in the jugular — she hit me exactly where she knew it would hurt. And it did.

A few minutes later I called my husband. Knowing that I was exhausted from a busy weekend, I told him what happened in between saying things like, “I know I am just being sensitive” and “I think I’m just tired.” He (thankfully) agreed that while neither of us thought she completely understood what she was saying, we also needed to teach her a lesson. We both feel that it’s important to ensure our children understand that both words and actions matter, so we devised a plan.

It was simple. If she did not want to talk to me, I would simply follow her wishes. I would ignore her until she apologized (without prompting) even if that meant she did not go to bed or to school the next day. She launched the first cannon, but I was going to win the war, or at least this particular battle.

I immediately put my plan into action. I walked right by her as she sat on the couch with her sisters playing Minecraft and ignored her. Although she didn’t even look up, I felt like my attitude spoke volumes. I went up to my room and ignored the heck out of her for approximately 18 minutes.

That’s when I heard my youngest ask for her turn on the iPad, and a few seconds later there was a knock on my door.

“Mom, I’m really sorry I said I didn’t want to talk to you anymore. I didn’t mean it,” my daughter softly said to me.

As I tried to tell her that I only wished she saw all the intelligence and talent and beauty in herself that her teachers and friends and father and I can see, the tears started flowing uncontrollably out of my eyes.

And that’s when another milestone happened. My daughter rushed over to me, threw her arms around my neck, and for the first time, she put MY heart back together.

As we held each other silently for what simultaneously felt like an instant and an eternity, I knew our relationship changed. In one moment, we both saw each other at our worst and then at our best. I was still her mommy — the one who kissed her forehead each night and made sure her blankie was within reach — but I also had to accept she was growing up.

She wanted some power and control over her life, and in her own way, she was asking me to hand it over. And in order to not lose her, in order to keep her close, I had to oblige. “I want you to take the test, but the ultimate decision on whether you participate in the class will be up to you; however, you’ll have to discuss it with Dad and I, and meet the teacher.”

“That sounds fair, Mom. I’m good with that,” she said. And then, as if to remind me that she still needed me, she kissed me on the cheek and skipped out of my room. My heart felt full again.

I am not so naive to believe that this won’t be the first of many “challenges” I have with my tweenage daughter and I know that that the issues ahead of us will grow in size and scope. However, I am hopeful that we both learned a little bit more about each other, and we remember more about putting the pieces back together than tearing them apart.

And I need to get my big girl panties on, because this is going to be one heck of a ride.

Did you enjoy this post or the things you read on Playdates on Fridays? Please make sure you like and share on Facebook and Twitter to make sure no one else misses a playdate! Or feel free to sign up for email notifications of new posts to the right. I never sell or spam, and only post one to two times a week, unless my kids drive me extra crazy, in which I may have a bonus post just to keep my sanity in check. Thanks for visiting.

 

 

#1000 Speak: Practicing Compassion to the Cable Guy

This post is part of the #1000Speak movement, where more than 1,000 bloggers will attempt to change the world by writing about compassion.

“Compassion is a verb.”

Compassion — a deep awareness of the suffering of another accompanied by the wish to relieve it. That means when you hear Sarah Mclachlan’s voice you automatically want to send a donation to the ASPCA. Or when George Clooney asks for help on TV, you send money. Or when someone you know is ill, you help.

For most of us, this is a natural instinct, at least to some degree. We see someone hurting, and we want to do something about it.

Compassion becomes more difficult when the situation is not so black and white. It’s judging the mom who left her child at home alone for fear she would lose her job. Instead of rallying behind a cause that could help single mothers, we condemn a woman who is just trying to survive. Or a lack of understanding for a woman who stays in a relationship where she is being abused, when she should simply just leave, without thinking of the fear and isolation she must be experiencing. Or believing that someone who suffers mental illness and takes his own life took the easy way out.

And then there is the compassion we should offer to those people we encounter on a daily basis. Those people that don’t necessarily deserve it. The people who make our life more difficult day in and day out. The guy who cuts in line at the movie, the mom who constantly talks about how great their kid is, the cable guy who is three hours late.

 “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” — Dalai Lama

If you want to be happy, practice compassion. Huh.

This Dalai Mama thinks he may be on to something, but unless you are a Tibetan monk, it’s pretty difficult to incorporate compassion into today’s hectic life, especially when it feels like the universe is conspiring against you. I mean no offense to the DL, but he never needed to get to soccer practice, the library and a PTA meeting all within fifteen minutes of each other.

Being compassionate to those we encounter in our daily lives– those who seem to get in our way or  those who we have the perception are doing something to us — is tough. This is the reason they call it “practicing” compassion.

Let me tell you a little story about my cable guy, Victor.

Victor was supposed to arrive at my house between the hours of 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. to re-connect my TV and Internet. He did not arrive until 6:30 p.m. causing me to miss a few appointments and a dinner I was going to attend. However, I forgave him because he only arrived late due to his efforts to coordinate free cable for a woman’s shelter. He worked two jobs — the first as a tech for the cable company, and at night he fixed computers for a local business. His wife, three sons and parents lived in Slovakia, and he sent all his money to support them since there were not many jobs available since the war. He lived in a small apartment with three other men from his country, and drove an hour just to get to work each day.

It was hard to be upset with Victor knowing what he faced and the love he had for his family. It was easy to feel compassion for such an endearing soul.

Except this story is completely made up. This is the story I created to keep my head from exploding after waiting the entire afternoon for the cable guy to show up. I was attempting to practice compassion by convincing myself that Victor wasn’t a jerk.

The real Victor was a young kid who told me he still lived at home with his parents. He looked a little bit like Eminem (not that there is anything wrong with that), and he was late because he was new and had to turn around twice because he left his cell phone at prior appointments. He was unapologetic and not particularly kind. Although I wanted to tear him a new one for ruining my afternoon, my guess is he had already been ripped to shreds that day by prior customers.

Love me when I least deserve it, because that is when I need it the most. — Swedish Proverb.

I wanted to teach this young man a lesson. I wanted to unleash my rage. I wanted him to understand how frustrating it is to deal with the cable company; but something about Victor told me life wasn’t very kind to him. Instead of taking my frustration out on this young man, I practiced compassion to the best of my ability. I lent him some grace — and offered him a bottle of water. And although I was frustrated, for the first time an incident with the cable company did not unravel me, and I had no regrets about my behavior.

As Vic walked out to his truck, he thanked me for the water and mumbled that he was sorry that it took so long to get to my house. It had been “one of those days” and he still had another appointment to go.

I knew what it felt like to have a bad day. I had them all the time…I had children.  But even though Victor and I were very different, I could see me in him, and him in me. We all feel the same things, we all feel that we’re not good enough, frustrated and crabby. It’s how we handle it that makes a difference.

Providing this man compassion — whether it was deserved or not — was good for the both of us.

We shouldn’t save our compassion solely for those who look like they are suffering the most. Instead, we should try practicing compassion to everyone –even those that get under our skin every. single. day. These small moments are the ones we have the power to change. These are the acts that can change the world.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.” — Mother Teresa.

Or at least your experience with the cable guy.

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I am very grateful to all of the Bloggers participating in the Movement #1000Speak. This campaign was sparked after a few truly horrific events occurred, mainly against children. One blogger wrote a piece that reminded us of the phrase “it takes a village.” But where was the village for these kids? Where is the village now? We cannot rely on anyone else to watch over those suffering. We need to instead “be the village.” That’s where you come in.

By promoting compassion — everywhere — we can change the world. My post today takes a soft approach to a heavy topic, but that does not mean I take it lightly. We need more compassion in this world, and we need it now.

You can find the links to all the bloggers that have participated right here.  Please share the stories that move you, so we can change the world.

If you want to know more about this Movement please visit the Facebook Page here.

One love.

3 Ways We Bully on Facebook — And Don’t Even Know It

Everyone is somebody’s daughter; everyone is somebody’s son.

My six-year Facebookaversary is coming up soon. Yep, I’ve been wasting time in the black hole of the Internet for nearly 2,000 days and loving every second of it.

But it hasn’t all been sunshine and unicorns. There are many times when I take a quick peek at Facebook while waiting in pick up line, and I read a status update or comment on a post that leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Or worse, makes me feel a little dirty for reading information that I probably shouldn’t know.

But we’re adults, right? No harm, no foul.

I recently read an article about a bill that passed in New Jersey that would require all middle schoolers to take a class on how to use social media responsibly. The bill (A3292), which passed 37-2, would require school districts to instruct sixth through eighth graders on “cyber safety, cyber security, and cyber ethics” on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

I say hallelujah! And can you make parents take it too?

Social media can be fun. It gives us a way to connect on-the-fly. It offers us an opportunity to share photos, gather information, and keep tabs on “important life events.”

It also gives us a platform to do things we normally wouldn’t do or say in real life, things that would mortify us if our children did them.

Cyber bullying is when a person or a group of people uses the internet, email, online games or any other kind of digital technology to threaten, tease, upset or humiliate someone else. It’s the last one that gets most of us. Humiliate. We do it without even thinking, sometimes without even knowing we’re doing it.

Don’t think I’m judging you, because I’m writing this because I have done it. I’ve laughed and ridiculed and snickered at a photo without thinking about it. Because who is getting hurt, right? I’m doing it in the privacy of my own iPhone. I won’t hit “like” or “share”. Well, maybe I’ll show it to my husband later, but that’s not the same. Or I’ll pull it up and show it to my friend at soccer practice. And I can’t help it if she shares it, right?

What we say and do on Facebook (and every other social media platform) matters, especially as parents. Facebook isn’t always just an opportunity to connect with friends; instead it’s an extension of our personal life. A megaphone to our outside world. And more people than our friend’s list are listening.

Here are three things that may make you a Facebook bully without even knowing it:

1. Posting embarrassing photos of people you do not know. In today’s iEverything age, a person can snap a photo in a millisecond without the target even knowing. It’s a picture of an overweight woman’s butt crack sitting on the bleacher in front of you; it’s a photo of a woman in a too revealing dress; it’s a snapshot of an executive who fell asleep on the subway with drool coming out of his mouth; it’s a video of a man who has had too much to drink. We’ve all seen these images and laughed and thought nothing of it.

But here’s the thing, and there is no way getting around it. Those pictures live forever and regardless of your privacy settings they can be shared and spread like wildfire. And they are humiliating to the — wait for it — victim. Because that’s what a person is who unwillingly gets subjected to ridicule on your feed.

Imagine for just a second it was you in those photos. If that doesn’t get you, how about if it was your son or daughter?

2. Public Outings/Shaming. To better promote my blog, I have joined a ton of “private” groups on Facebook. It is great networking, and I have learned a lot from other more experienced writers. It’s been a very positive experience. Until the time I saw a sweet mommy blogger publicly call out another woman for being deceitful and shady. But don’t worry. The post was only shown to the private group – of approximately 2,000 peers.

It was an incredibly uncomfortable situation for everyone witnessing it. My inbox pinged with messages saying, “Can you believe she just did that?” and “Wow, I’m so embarrassed for them both!”

The “victim” in this situation, a woman who felt wronged, felt she performing a goodwill gesture — her civic duty per se — by informing us all of this private dispute. While a few people engaged, I gathered it was as uncomfortable for the rest of the group as it was for me. It was like driving by a fender bender. There was nothing to see, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

Social media is feeding our narcissism, fueling our ego and compelling us to “act” like public crusaders, even when there is no need. Exposing private information with the intent to instigate others is a blatant form of harassment. Some would argue that it is no different than sharing your bad shopping experience with friends, except what you put on the Internet never goes away. A public “outing” on Facebook can be far more permanent than even a scarlet letter, which at least could be covered.

Now, this woman’s story may have been completely accurate. Maybe she was cheated by this blogger, and maybe she had every right to be upset; but the other woman also has rights, and the other woman also has children, relatives and friends that are on Facebook, many of whom came to her defense. I was relieved when the admin took the post down and put the perpetrators in Facebook time out, but the damage was already done.

It is easy to tell ourselves that we are doing something in the name of the greater good, but publicly outing someone — and then trying to shame them — is not the example we should set for our kids.

To put it in a parenting context, suppose your toddler had bad judgment at day care one day. He bit a girl when she stole his favorite Lego. Then imagine a parent posting a photo of the bite mark with your son’s mug shot side by side with the status update: “This kid is a biter. You have been warned.”

Most of us would be outraged. Let that sink in for a second.

When we expose other people’s mistakes — and even their blatant wrongdoings — on Facebook, we make ourselves feel better, but that shouldn’t be confused with making a difference. And don’t be surprised when someone else — someone with a wider net — strikes back. It is a never-ending circle of negativity.

3. Posting about people who annoy you. This is the one I am the most guilty of doing. “Dear guy who was tooting on the treadmill next to me” or “To the mom not watching her kids at Chik-Fil-A” are some of my best updates that get the greatest amount of likes.

But then one day my youngest daughter happened to see my open Facebook page when I jumped up to get my cell phone. I had just posted a witty status update about the way the oil change guy spoke to me in a condescending way, when she looked up at me with those big blue eyes and said, “Mom, I thought he was nice. He gave me a lollipop.”

Ouch.

I realized in that moment that I was the one being catty and judgmental and a coward. And condescending. I would NEVER acknowledge these issues in public, so why would I say them on Facebook. To get a laugh? To get a thumbs up?

Rule of “thumb”: if you would be embarrassed if the person you posted about actually read your post, then you probably shouldn’t write it. And that goes double if you would be mortified if your kid read it.

Some studies have shown that Facebook can actually be good for you, producing a natural high that leads to relaxed heart rates and lower levels of stress and tension. When used for good and not evil, it can even boost self-esteem. The findings support the researchers’ hypothesis that Facebook’s success, as well as that of other social media networks, correlates to the specific positive mental and physical state users experience.

So think before you post. Keep it positive and keep it personal — and nobody gets hurt.

 

Parenting with a Story

I received a lot of email regarding my article To my Daughter, At Halftime, a list of things I wanted my daughter to know in the “second half” of her growing-up years. Quite a few people contacted me and asked if I read the article to her, and did it resonate?

Always one to take on a double-dog dare, I sat down with my three girls (twins age 10 and my almost nine-year old) separately and read them the piece. I received quite a few giggles, a few nods, and about 25 interruptions asking what certain words meant like trajectory and unfulfilling and diss. In the world of Common Core grading, they didn’t even know what GPA was yet.

Even though I took the time to define these words to them, and I spent time explaining why these points were important to me, it wasn’t sinking in. I lost them. It was a big fail. All of these great messages were not getting into their heads and into their souls.

I mulled it over quite a bit the next day. If I was putting all this thought into what I wanted my girls to know, how could I actually get them to, well, get it.

That’s when it clicked. A few months back a publishing executive saw one of my posts on Mean Girls and asked if I would take a look at a book she was promoting. Because I like free stuff, I said sure, but I really wasn’t sure what to do with it.

When Parenting with a Story arrived in my mail box, I was excited. I loved the premise of the book, which offered real-life stories for parents and children to share to underscore important lessons such as perseverance, gratitude, kindness, grit, and more. I read several of the sometimes heart-wrenching and sometimes heart warming stories, but since I didn’t need them in the moment, I placed the book to the side.

Until now.

I felt like an idiot. I couldn’t read my kids one of my blog posts and expect them to understand it. I mean, when I was growing up, if my mom started lecturing me about something I totally tuned her out. And I certainly never believed her when she said she knew what it was like to be my age.

I went back and read the intro Paul Smith wrote for his book. One of the most powerful lines is a quote he pulled from the self-described political theorist Hannah Arendt: “Story-telling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” From a parenting perspective that means it is possible to get our point across without blatant eye rolls.

Smith also said in the book: “Platitudes that seem profound in a pithy piece of prose are surprisingly unhelpful to children in a real-life situation….What does it mean to ‘be myself’ or ‘stand up to peer pressure?’ Should I walk away, start a fight, or just ignore them? At the other end of the spectrum, telling children exactly what to do in every situation is overly prescriptive and doesn’t leave them room to think for themselves. But a story…gives them a concrete idea for how to respond without just telling them what to do.”

Are you talking to me Mr. Smith?

Luckily, I have stories. A lot of them. I have stories that underscore every point in my blog post. I probably have stories about me — or my friends — to highlight every lesson I want my kids to know (yes, if I’m going down, I’m taking all of you with me….it’s for the children.)

I had the story of how someone had accidentally forwarded a message to a group of fifty people, including me, that was only meant for the eyes of one. It contained private, embarrassing information about someone’s divorce. It was completely unintentional, but it happened and the damage was done. Daughters, this is why maintaining your digital privacy is important

I had the story of when I was ten and watching television with my brother. I exclaimed how much I loved the band on TV. He scoffed and told me I didn’t even know who it was. I showed him, and proudly said: “I do too, it’s Via Satellite.” He was relentless with mocking me while he explained  that the concert was broadcasting live “via satellite” and the band was, in fact, U2. Daughters, this is why you should not pretend to be something you’re not. And be thankful you don’t have a brother.

I had the story of making the decision to leave my career in public relations to try something new, something that makes me infinitely happier and self-satisfied. One decision can change the trajectory of your life. It was a story that my kids are watching play out first hand. Daughters, this is why you should let yourself be vulnerable, and always be courageous.

I sat down with the girls to try again. We went through each point, and I told a story to go with each one. They had questions this time. They made comments about things that have happened in their lives, some of which I never knew. They started to get it.

I can answer truthfully now that I shared this post with my kids in a meaningful way. The future will tell how deeply it impacted them, but I feel pretty good every time I get my kids to open up to me.

And I can’t wait to share the story of my first spiral perm. Man, that one is a doozy and I’ve got pictures to prove it. Don’t even ask…

Is this your first playdate? Make sure you sign up to the right to receive my posts via email (one to two per week) or make sure to “like” us on Facebook. 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Grandma Buried My Barbies!

I have a guest post today from my friend Vanessa Schenck. Vanessa is my kindred spirit. We both are working towards trying to be happy when we have everything to be happy about. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but we’re learning. We also both have daughters, and we are working hard to make sure they grow up as strong, confident women. Most importantly, however, I am wildly excited about a new organization she is about to launch: TIA Girl Club, a Clubhouse for girls to come play and receive the support and encouragement they need to live their authentic lives.  To follow their dreams.  To learn happiness is a choice. As Vanessa said in her own words: “It’s a way of supporting and encouraging all the girls who I didn’t give birth to myself,” the ones that don’t get the support from their moms or dads or anyone else. I love that message, and I love this thoughtful, funny post she’s sharing today. I hope you do too. Find out more information about TIA Girl Club here or follow Vanessa on Twitter @vanessaschenck.

I was having lunch with a few close girlfriends the other day when the subject of Barbie surfaced. My friend shared the story of how her mom buried her daughter’s Barbies in the backyard.

Yes, I just said that.

You see, my friend’s mom came for a visit, saw the Barbie in the playroom and decided to teach her granddaughter a thing or two about having a positive body image. And this lesson was taught by taking Barbie, her clothes,  and all her accessories, putting them in a cardboard box and burying it like the dead in the backyard.

“Did you know this was happening?” I proceeded to question.

“Well, no,” she told me. Apparently she didn’t find out until her 8-year old shared the story at bedtime.
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 I love this story. I just think it’s funny as all get out. The images alone of the actual digging of the hole are beyond hysterical.

But, funny aside, my friend agreed that Grandma had legitimate reasons for sending Barbie into the grave. After all, Grandma is a major smarty-pants — she has her Ph.D. in English Literature AND her Masters in Social Work AND she teaches gender studies to undergraduates and law students at Washington University.  Grandma knows what she’s talking about.

There are numerous studies about the impact Barbie has on girls’ self-esteem and eating habits (aged 5 to 8). Those who play with Barbie have less self-esteem along with a desire to be thin than those that play with “realistic” dolls.

Shocker?  Not really.

So, as I was driving home from said lunch, I got to thinking:  “Heck! I’ve given my own daughter Barbie dolls!  Do I now need to perform a ceremonial Barbie burial in my backyard too?” I started to drive faster.

When I arrived home, I had successfully come up with a list of reasons to tell Julia, my 9-year-old daughter, why she needed to gather her Barbies and bury them!  And while it’s not like she plays with them night and day, she does still love them, and prying them out of her hands was not going to be easy.  I had to get my ducks in a row to convince her it was for her own good.

As I got out of my car, ready to gather-up everything Barbie, it hit me. What was I doing?  I didn’t need to toss out her Barbies. Julia loves them!  And, I realized, Barbie is not the problem.

Clearly I had gone off the rails after listening to my friend’s story.  As in, I momentarily failed to remember what I know to be true.  This particular afternoon’s journey had me forgetting where my daughter’s self-esteem comes from; but with any misstep, the important thing is how quickly you recover.

Let me explain.

There was a time in my life I had no idea where my happiness, my joy, my self-esteem, came from. I would get up in the morning either feeling happy or not, and that was that.  If I was feeling down, I’d say things to myself like, “Well, it’s just one of those days.”  I’d invent excuses for feeling blue.  My boss was upset about the numbers…I couldn’t find a taxi in the rain…some guy didn’t call me back.

If I was happy, well, more power to me!  It was a stroke of good luck, and I just went with it.  I would reason my happiness came from that awesome night’s sleep — or even just because I was having a good hair day.

Back then, my happiness was circumstantial.  When the universe was favoring me, I was happy.  When it wasn’t, I was Ms. Crabby-Pants.

But then things changed. I started to understand I was in control of my happiness.  I started to read books that gave me a new perspective on how to be happy. I read everything from Deepak Chopra to Tony Robbins and Eckhart Tolle to Elizabeth Gilbert.

An episode of Oprah’s Next Chapter also opened my eyes to the idea of choosing happiness.  In it, Oprah spent time in the slums of Mumbai.  She was invited by a poverty-stricken family to visit their home —  a 10×10 foot concrete box housing five people. During the show, Oprah asked the 12 year-old daughter: “Are you happy?” as if to say, “Who in the heck could be happy living here!”

The girl looked at Oprah, smiled and said, “Yes, I’m happy.”  You could tell from the genuine smile on her face that she so obviously was.This young girl, living in poverty in the slums of Mumbai, sleeping on the floor of her concrete house with four other people was happy.  Not because she didn’t know any better, but because she was choosing it.

So why, if this awesome, self-confident girl living in the Mumbai slums can choose happiness, why can’t I?  Why can’t we ALL?

Well, we can. We either don’t choose to, or, as was my case, we don’t know we can. We need to learn it. Someone needs to teach us, or we need to find it out for ourselves.

How does this relate to keeping Julia’s Barbies above ground? It’s been my husband and my mission to give Julia the encouragement and support she needs to become a strong, empowered girl.  And, thus far, I’m thrilled with how things are going.  Julia’s self-confidence, how happy and satisfied with who she is, is so clearly not dependent on Barbie.   mandy wedding 432_pe

The girl knows herself, so much more than I did when I was her age. She knows to choose happiness, and she knows to choose her thoughts and words carefully.  She speaks what she wants to see in her life.  No doll is going to change that.But what about the girls (and boys) who don’t receive the support and encouragement they need to grow their own self-confidence?  What about the ones who don’t have parents or teachers demonstrating that happiness is a choice?  The ones who do find self-esteem (or a lack thereof) in Barbie?  Those are the girls I sit up at night thinking about.

So, do I think my friend’s mom was a little nuts in burying the Barbies?  No, I don’t. It wasn’t so much an exorcism of Barbie from the house (although, clearly, Barbie was sacrificed), but a lesson in becoming aware of where self-esteem comes from.  That it comes from within.  And for that, I applaud her.  Go, Grandma!

Just this morning, Jules woke up, made her way downstairs and said, “Mommy.  I don’t know why, but I woke up feeling really sad today.”  And I understand this. I sometimes wake up feeling blue too, for no apparent reason.  The old Vanessa?  Well, she would have rolled with that.  Taken no action.  Been a sour-puss all day and blamed it on the fact that, “Well, I just woke up this way.”  Me now?  I know better.  And that’s exactly what I told Jules.

“Honey, I get it.  Sometimes we just wake up on the wrong side of the bed, it happens.  But now that you’re awake, you decide how you’re going to feel today.  What’s it going to be, kiddo?”

She reached for her morning bagel and said, “Mom, I’m choosing to be in a happy mood.”  And just like that, she was.  Magic.

That’s my girl!  My Barbie-loving baby girl.