Tuesday, 30 December 2014

To the woman writing the "To the Woman" letter

I know what you are doing, woman with the smirk and the giant Jackie-O-like sunglasses that fail to cover it. I can tell you're not a fan. As we speak, you are writing me one of those letters titled something like:  "To the Woman Who Let Her 4-yr-old Cry Non-Stop for 25 Minutes at the Pool", aren't you?
Our happy place
Yes, my child has been crying, or rather whining, for me to come into the pool for many minutes now. And yes, he might have greatly impeded your reading of Ken Follet's: "Edge of Eternity". Coincidentally, your own child of similar age has been behaving like... Well, I don't even know like what - I have never NEVER seen a child not make a peep for an entire morning! I only noticed a second ago that there is even a child next to you. Is she yours? Don't get this the wrong way, please, but I want your child!

Before I go any further let me remind you that this is a family-friendly community. Please accept that booking a trip here to visit your parents at this particular time of the year will eventually involve other people's children. Some may cry. In the baby-boomer era, Florida is bursting with so-called "55+" neighbourhoods - perhaps you convince your folks to move?

In the meanwhile, I've been asked to be the escort to the washroom, how many times? I have seriously lost count. I provide healthy snacks on demand. You see this blue and white box? It's the fridge equivalent of Mary Poppins' bag. Between two boys, these tasks are pretty much on-going. I am also frequently charged with pressing the button on the fountain to refill water guns - apparently, it's not nearly as much fun unless the water is ice cold! In addition, I sit like a hostage for 40 minutes on an 'airplane' assembled of lined-up deck chairs pretending to hold a proper boarding pass and passport for the 6-year-old pilot who checks in passengers himself. And he is meticulous - there is no way to escape!

I successfully arbitrated a number of "I had it first" conflicts thereby preventing World War III. I re-applied sun-screen according to the instructions while chasing the swift and slippery semi-greased children so I can finish the area under their eyes without touching the eyes, mouth or nose and so possibly risking a visit to Emergency. I've been a life guard, making sure at all times I keep track of the two heads that are popping in and out of the water, now that older kids have taught them how to 'thunderbo-o-o-o-lt!'. Then the drinking of pool water - gurgling it and then spitting it at each other while laughing uncontrollably, which also poses a safety hazard.

The reality of my happy place.
Ironically, I too had a book open on my electronic device: page 79 of 1441. Yup, ten days into it and I'm making good progress. My book club is scheduled for the third Tuesday in January, but I thought I was in excellent shape with these two plus weeks in Florida -  who can't finish a book, for once, on such a long and relaxing vacation? But, my friend, I am yet to be on that lounge-chair adorned with my favourite beach towel - that is secured by a clip in the form of a flamingo no less - for longer than five - not fifteen, not fifty - uninterrupted minutes.

So, when I refuse to get wet in order to play "ding" please consider cutting me some slack. You see, I invented the game we fondly call "ding" few years ago. Fully immersed in water, with my arms outstretched to touch the edge of the pool, I play the 'security' at this very gated community. When the visitor arrives at the entrance ramp (aka my arm), he needs to recite his first and last name, age and the purpose of his visit. When the ramp opens, I must sound the "ding" to mark the occasion while, needless to say, delighting my visitors. While at the gate, the older one is required to list his full address in Florida, including the zip code and my cell phone number - a precaution from a few years ago when he wandered away in the local outlet mall (saving that for the reformed-shopaholic post.) So, “ding” is certainly an educational game. After a few entries, these visitors simultaneously become both cocky and crazy and start skipping the intro part, one jumping over the ramps, the other one diving under. At that point, I have no other choice but to dial 911. When the police car arrives (me again, this time with sirens) it takes them both to jail (stairs of the pool) where they have to sit and count (the JK sentence) or do simple math, such as adding to 10 (suitable Grade 1 punishment). Now that I see it in writing, I am surprised they love it so much given the heavy math content.

But this is not the first time you and I met. I saw you at the gym yesterday morning when you walked in on my moksha yoga sequence just as you were picking up two 25-lb dumbbells so you could complete the most punishable sit-up routine I have ever witnessed. Really, I wouldn’t have looked, but you parked your mat right in front of me, obscuring my view of the pool. I could see nothing but your face in pain, to be specific, that bulging vein - the arteriovenous fistula - rapidly growing in the middle of your forehead. Just for the record, I’m no slob either. I power walked six miles, pausing only occasionally to talk to a passerby or two, before I returned to my pigeon pose, trying to save these gluts from aching tomorrow. The fact that my toppling tree kept toppling is because you, Woman - writing the "To the Woman" letter to me as we speak - for whatever reason chose my knee as your focal point as you completed your self-inflicted boot camp. My yoga teacher taught me to breathe into my ribs and smile with my eyebrows; I understand that that expression might have thrown you off.
My walking trail
My meditation path

The way you keep glancing at me while still scribbling no doubt suggests you do not approve of my figure. Trust me, sister, neither am I. But somehow, all this walking I am doing fails to make a visible effect, although it makes me insanely happy on the inside. Who wouldn't be happy walking through this tropical paradise, appreciating life and everything in it? Well not everything, I suppose... Not you. Not today.

Back to my child's whining - and yes, I am aware he is still whining - I am really not ready to commit to the "ding" game yet. This might surprise you but I am, sort of, a retiree at heart. When we come here in April or during the summer, I am the first to rush into the ocean, never mind the pool. But in late December I am more the type that contemplates for a minute or two or ten on each step before getting deeper. The spa is, on the other hand - totally my cup of tea.

This crying marathon actually started when I got up from the lounge-chair, clear no reading was going to happen, but headed for the hot tub instead of the pool, starting the jets full force. My right ankle thanked me!

You see, as I am replying to your letter that I haven't actually read yet, the jets are so loud I don't even hear my kid yelling any more. And no, I'm in no position to change my parenting for your comfort. If I do, he will drive our rent-a-car tomorrow. Or eat sixteen fruit yogurts, all blueberry, instead of dinner. Or sleep and shower with my iPad - the one I have that book club reading on.

The spa's bubbles ended their 15 minute sequence. All is quiet. And look, my boy is contently playing in the shallow part of the pool all by himself! And now, NOW you are leaving?! Or no... You are coming to talk to me? To personally hand me your letter?!

“Here, your mom asked where we got three-wheeled bicycles for my parents. It was at Engel's. Here is their address and website. They're pricey but very safe. Say Betsy sent you!"
“Oh... Thank you...”
“Also, I wanted to ask you... Where did you get your bathing suit? I love that frilly little skirt!"

“Simon Chang... in Costco...”

I simply adore Byron Katie. I love her observation: "Defence is the first act of war". Teaching us to lead the life without explaining, without justifying and independent of the good opinion of others. Just loving what is.

When will I learn? Until then, beach it is!
"If you're happy on vacation clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)..."

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

All I want for Hanukkah is... SILENCE (not X-mas)

The last one that has to do with Holidays, I promise. At least until the Valentine's Day or whatever our local Dollar store starts displaying a week from today -- they always know best.

I should've known what to expect three years ago when a new neighbour moved in around the corner from us and erected a contraption that, at a click of a button, made his outdoor swimming pool go indoor. Or when he installed two of those garage elevators so he could store his four SUV's - vanity license plates carefully yet not originally chosen - in the double car garage. 4UQT! Barf bag, puhlease!!! If that wasn't enough, by the end of the summer a contractor came and started work on what had seemed to be a perfectly good driveway (after all, the house was brand new), only to reveal some 20k later - are you ready? - the blue & white logo of the Toronto Maple Leafs smack down in the middle. I promise to take a picture of it and risk trespassing. It would be totally worth it! The next owner will no doubt have to be a fan! The only thing missing on the house was a mezuzah. So I should have known...

Few days after that year's Halloween when a giant inflated pumpkin was unceremoniously removed from the manicured front lawn, a big truck pulled in with the sign: "It's a Christmas Affair". It gets dark so damn early this far north in the Northern hemisphere, that the sun had already set by 5 p.m. when I brought my favourite middle child home from JK. Worry not, no kids have been emotionally harmed with this blog-post. I'm a mother of three and call each of them 'my favourite insert the order of birth child'. They are used to it. Turning the corner approaching our home, we were blinded by the glow worthy of the Las Vegas strip.

- MAMAAAAA - exclaimed then 4 yr old Daniel - DID YOU SEE THIS HOUSE?!??!!!
- Yes, it's really pretty!
- Can we DO THAT to our house???!!!
The house
- Ask Aba*!

[*Aba - dad in Hebrew]

So now, I am not too proud of dodging this request by referring it to my good husband, I figured that he is a Sabra (born in Israel), an original Jerusalem boy. Just by his birthright he sounded better qualified to explain the why not vs. why not today, which I was ready to handle.

A lot of my fellow Jewish moms have the same issue with their little ones and we kind of all feel a bit of relief when kids start Grade 1 in one of the Hebrew Schools and joyously become experts on Jewish holidays. The joy comes from learning the traditional songs and stories. The enthusiasm to remember it all, comes from the fact the schools are closed for every single one of these holidays. And there are so many!!! No kidding the kids are happy -- school is out a lot!

A mommy-blogger wrote this week a nice article on parenting in general and this dilemma that haunts non-Christmas-celebrating families - clearly we are not the only one! It also inspired the title of this post.

Seemingly unrelated, I know a thing or two about the Pharmaceutical industry -- it is often criticized for 'creating the market' for the medications they promote. If you can't recall the TV commercials reminding you the dry patches on your skin are embarrassing in addition to being itchy and bothersome, followed by the insanely undesirable list of side effects including death, everyone certainly remembers a man hopping around town on his way to work, singing a children's song. Yup, subliminally we all tend to diagnose ourselves, while washing dishes as the TV chimes on: do you feel tired? No, really, you do! Of course I'm tired. Shut up, I'll ask my doctor, all right?

Demoted to a lower case "s"
But what happens when the tiredness comes from the exhaustion of feeling pressured to buy and buy big on every single step. That's all they do since mid November - the TV and Radio stations - sometimes starting even earlier. "You'd better get ready, the shopping days are dwindling down" "Show how much you love them". The Malls, the shops, the billboards, the noise, the shiny happy people and the golden wrapping paper... I mean, just look at this woman, on the commercial for one of the major electronic retailers. Show of hands, who doesn't want to be the enchanted her? Or better yet, who doesn't want to be the owner of the hand 'as seen on TV'?!
This year, my e-mail got legitimately spammed. I started getting messages from a spa I once trusted with a facial, with the personalized "The clock is ticking if Marina still wants to get the glow for the holidays". The blender I diligently registered in order for the warranty to work is reminding me it's the last day to order... How many 600$ blenders do I need, darling Vitamix people?
Actually, I am very proud to have completed soon-to-be an entire year of starting my work-days with a green smoothie. One of those resolutions, I miraculously held for 12 months! How much more should I slurp to qualify for peace from these marketers?

My biggest disappointment came when self-improvement publishers, renowned teachers and guru's, coaches and authors, who I actually enjoy reading and following, started flooding my mailbox with countdowns and subject lines such as: "It's Now or Never" or "Last Chance" to sell their programs, books and related merchandise. The closer we got to the ominous Dec 25th, the bigger the discount, the smaller the ask: get the stocking stuffers, at least! Forgetting the prevailing principle of their very books and teachings that "There is no such a thing as a last chance - every day is a clean slate". Now or Never? I'll be adventurous and go with the never. Let's see what happens, between now and next December, shall we, when the next round of bargains and last chances start flooding in.
To tell the truth, this whole time with the holiday frenzy spinning uncontrollably, I think to myself that if it was only for this year-end madness, becoming Jewish was a true blessing.

Then, last week, as we were killing some time in Chapters, a big-box-book store, in Bayview Village. I saw it clearly: This end of the year business, is nothing but... business. For those hoping for warmth, closeness to either God or family or both, all this pressure and counting and guilting sounds like one big fat lie. An approved scam.

Who the heck is Elf on the Shelf?! Mensch on a Bench??? You must be kidding me! But then again, I've seen the trees with only blue & white lights, dreidels happily dangling around, star of David proudly displayed on the top. December toy drive in a Synagogue. Who are they baking the cookies for, Hanukkah Harry? And his camel? Why does everything need to be for profit?

I know only one way of dealing with this. Silence. Whether it's my personal prayer, a meditation, a long walk or sitting alone in a room, I know how I want to feel come calendar year-end: complete and alive. I want to count my many blessings. I want to extend thanks. I want to offer help to those going through tough times. I want to review all the mistakes I have made and learn something from them. Cringe at my bloopers one last time before I let them go. I want to remember if I neglected to connect with someone in my life. Call them. Or write a long real letter, not a card. I want to forgive myself. And then everyone else. And laugh off the rest of problems. Then commit to one 'before & after' shot I will be proud to share on-line.



I hope you have all 9 candles ready for tonight's lighting of the Menorah. I hope that the last eight days have reinstalled the sense for the miraculous that life really is. May you all grow from strength to strength. Happy Hanukkah! 
And I hope that right there inside of you, you'll find everything you need to believe; to FEEL the family gathering and the spirit of giving as the meaningful and sacred time. Merry Christmas!

No purchase necessary. 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

New Year's Revolution

It's Holiday Season. This may be needed. What do dressing room mirrors, bathroom scales, tact-less relatives and drunken friends-of-friends all have in common?
Let the Friend Like Me tell you about one New Year's resolution actually worth making. What about keeping it? Worry not, it keeps itself... A revolution.

A few years ago, while I was expecting baby #last, my then toddler threw a mega tantrum. He wouldn't enter the home of one of our close relatives that we haven't seen in a while. So we carried him in. Once inside, he wouldn't take his jacket off. So we peeled him out of it. Then he wouldn't stand, sit or be quiet - instead, he rolled himself around the carpet, banging the floor with arms and legs, howling at the top of his lungs. If childcare services happened to be passing by, I am sure we would've got a tap on the shoulder.

I raised my firstborn son mostly by myself and as expected, he never threw a tantrum, probably knowing somewhere deep down not to mess with his mom/dad 2-in-1 combo. Flash forward: my husband and I - both tantrum-virgins in our 40's - were looking at each other wondering what had possessed our otherwise angelic child and how to get him back when my in-law asked: 

"Marina, who on your side of the family is this stubborn?"

My husband gasped. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary amongst others, gives this definition of the word 'offend': 
to cause to feel hurt, angry, or upset by something said or done. 

Oh how completely I used to succumb to that feeling! For those that know the funny/fearless/fire-breathing dragon I am today, it will be hard to imagine I used to be a serial blusher as a child. Any sentence longer than four words would have ended in my face turning red. God forbid that a question followed - I’d turn crimson. 

Following is a short biography of me feeling offended: 
  • In elementary school, some 'mean girls' called me Dumbo as I had protruding ears. Worry not - I got it fixed. Once I work up my blogging courage, I’ll be sure to visit the 10 yr old me the day they took off the bandages and gave me a hand-held mirror. I was the first ever cosmetic surgery in Belgrade's Children's Hospital. My BEFORE & AFTER photo still hangs in the office of the Chief of Surgery. 
  • Then there was this girl in Grade 9 standing with her group of friends who were anxiously awaiting details of some wild weekend romp or perhaps the exaggerated version of it. As I walked by, she stopped mid-story with the comment: "hold on, gotta wait for the nun to pass". Nun!!! Of course it's funny today - I'm kind of grateful to have been nun-like at 16. But then, those words scorched. I heard them as: dull, uninteresting, unlovable
  • Embarrassingly, this didn't end with maturity. A cool mom who was a close friend of our family went to the same aerobics studio as I. One time during an intense day of studying for exams, I dragged myself to a class hoping to alleviate accumulated anxiety. Totally beaten up by our insane, Bin-Laden-hunt-worthy instructor, I took my time in the change-room. Then I heard a thunderous: "Marina!!! Your breasts are HUGE!" coming out of the mouth of this woman who knew me since birth. Needless to say about fifty pairs of eyes immediately swivelled to my - thankfully - bra-covered rack. In Serbia during the late 80’s we weren't in on Victoria’s Secret. Apparently, this was good news. Where is a Kardashian when you need one??!! For the next few years that followed I actually adopted a hunched posture and oversized shirts. 

This all before I raked up the glamorous status of a new immigrant single mother and my three sets of in-laws! Plenty to be offended by. 
Epiphanies can't be bleep-ed

Epiphanies can occur at any given moment. Epiphanies can also arrive in somewhat profane language. But once they occur, there is no way back. My epiphany likely followed a marathon of obsessing who is going to think what; should I do/say/wear this or that. Yes, I actually don’t remember. What I do know for sure is that I was exhausted of trying to predict the future chess- like moves of characters who were supposed to have predominantly supportive roles in my life. 

"I don't GIVE a sh*t!" 

The relief was instantaneous. The worries I dragged around with me since forever washed off as effortlessly as if I simply showered them off. Why did it take me so long??? 

I should have known. If I only faced the word itself and read it correctly. Offend. OFF. END. 
Turn it off. Then it ends. So simple. "I don't GIVE a sh*t!" The pharmacist in me can't resist adding: repeat a few times, before and after each meal, even if right this second, you kind of still do give a sh*t. Then feel the relief washing all over you - coming here to stay. 

Back in that living room, where the toddler was still tantrum-ing on the carpet. By my third marriage, I'd became a pro at this: Surrender. Have fun. Flirt with what used to be a potential for a disaster. Mischievously, wink at my hubby. Then make a resolution: I stubbornly refuse to get offended. 


Monday, 8 December 2014

What if HO HO HO stands for "HOrrendous HOliday HOarding"?

If you close your eyes, take a really deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, then have a long loud exhale through your mouth while still truly believing (cue in the music, please) "It's the most wonderful time of the year" -- please click on another page. Now. This week's post is not for you. Close this down. Thank you. Ciao! Just kidding... read on!

Disclaimer: No, I am not an #IH8XMAS weirdo. Nor have I been scarred for life in my early childhood -- making a wish list of sorts and then being ignored by Santa or his reps, getting both zilch & bubkes as a result, forever remembering that morning that forever ruined Christmas for me. All joking aside, too often in my coaching, I see this story repeat itself, bearing considerable grief straight into mid life. The same applies for "my parents used my Bar Mitzvah money to pay for my Bar Mitzvah". Disappointment is a universal beast.

How abundance felt
Diving straight to the place of major nostalgia for me, let me confess that I loved New Year's time when I was little. Born into Serbian Orthodox heritage during the communist reign meant fasting all day on Jan 6th, including the X-mas Eve and a food-over-loaded, yet gift-less X-mas day on January 7th. All the while making sure the shutters were closed and the curtains were down. None of this celebrating was allowed by Marshal Tito and his party. My mother still remembers some songs her grandparents sang for these occasions, and she will sing them beautifully, come January, adding hum's and la-la-la's in lieu of lyrics that have been long forgotten. We were a small yet loud and affectionate family of ten: Grandfather, grandmother, their two daughters with husbands and their four kids. I was the baby.

However, we did get the presents each Dec 31st - they were called "New Year's packages" - pre-paid at our mom's workplace. The employer's union meeting hall, with buzzing and randomly blinking neon lights, would fill up with good parents and excited kids. Despite our fanciest attire, we all looked greenish-blue. The fat dude in a red suit called Santa all around the world, had a different name here: Deda (Grandpa) Mraz (Frost). He was lean and tall like Serbians usually are, and he sported a white beard fashioned from cotton balls. He must have looked really creepy as I am hysterically crying in almost every single photograph my parents took, developed, printed and neatly placed in a family album. Although I have vivid memories of my early childhood, I don't remember a single gift I ever received.

What I do remember, however, is the smell of the live fir tree my father would bring on December 31st. My mom would get the ladder and from the farthest depths of the tallest shelf would materialize a few magical boxes filled with unique hand-crafted glass ornaments. Half of her career my mom was a lawyer at The Institute for Manufacturing Banknotes and Coins - the mint. Her work friends were designers and artists who 'played' with making one-of-a kind art. She started a collection, delighting my sister and me. She still has them. But what I loved even more than these unique shapes were the lights. My mom would string them first, place the shiny garlands deep inside the tree, then let us, kids, carefully slide each precious ornament into the place we chose. Every night she would flick the switch and the tiny colourful bulbs would warm up, inspiring the evergreen to cast its spell. The lights would stay on all night making our old and uneven walls glow with a magical hue. And although I was somewhat aware of how unglamorous it all looked in the daylight, that time of the year the nighttimes were sheer abundance. I felt wealthy.

Perhaps this is why my first experience of a North American Christmas had such a weird effect on me. My first step on the US soil was none less than New York, New York. The movie, architecture & art lover that I am, I didn't have time to notice the Rudolphs, wreaths and jingles. I was mesmerized by this city from my first breath. This hasn't changed. The second stop was Houston, TX, where we, my first ex husband (I'll call him F/X) and I, were to witness the traditional Christmas affair: the live Nutcracker performance followed by the maple-glazed ham and a ginormous stuffed turkey, and tearing through Neiman Marcus gift-wrapping paper. Da "works".

On the first day I met F/X's family, I also met a darling 3-year-old boy who was our host's grandson. With a Croatian father and a Chinese mother, this child looked both cute and interesting to me; I was unaccustomed to multiracial families. The only other race in Serbia were Gypsies. Immediately I owned the role of his aunty-in-love. We played everything: from peek-a-boo and tickle-toes to hide-and-seek and irresponsibly run-run-running around the house, filled with oversized golden statues and tacky porcelain figurines. When the moment arrived for all of the family to gather around the giant tree, I seriously expected a school bus loaded with orphaned children would be honking at the driveway any second, announcing their arrival. There were  s o   m a n y   t o y s  on the display for only One (1) three-year-old child. They could have done their own WestJet miracle. Seriously.

That year, little Johnny* got a train set. A kick-ass train set, battery operated with meters of rails, traffic signs and a working ramp! He got a remote control operated helicopter. And a car he could sit in, with gears and shock absorbers. And a formula-one race track. I almost forgot a puny little Fisher-Price school bus, to round the transportation department offering under the tree. Add a mega Lego set - one of those we'd just seen in the NYC's flagship store -- we had checked out the price, laughed and said out loud: "Who buys this??!" He also got a bench with the mini Black & Decker power tools, each tool actually making a faint electronic noise so the kid is not confused which one he is playing with. Further in the sound category, there was a keyboard with a record/replay option and a microphone. A mini drum set. A kid walkman. Kid camera. Kid phone. The only thing missing was a kid's HELP phone.

Uninterested in this near vulgar display of reverence many friends and business partners felt for the powerful CEO Grandpa, although many gifts were no doubt purchased by the family as well, little Johnny impatiently yanked at my knuckles right after the adults had finished ripping the holly-infused wrapping paper, ooo-ing, aaah-ing and moo-ing to excite a reaction from the child.

"Mau-ina**!!! Let's go run, run, run!!! C'mon Mau-ina!!!" was the only reaction.

Soon after, when we were once again deeply engrossed in the play that cost no more than my cheerful presence, his mother appeared. She pulled me aside and forbade me to continue to 'engage with her son in this manner, as it will build an expectation that she is not willing to fulfill'. English was still a foreign language to me (I would immigrate to Canada only four years later) so I tried to repeat that statement in slow-motion in my head doubting I fully understood - she does not run, run, run and do tickle-toes with little Johnny??! No way! Then she ordered: "And no more wearing perfume when I am here!" Totally getting how privileged I am, I was the first to find out little Johnny was gonna be a big brother. Double the order for the kids' help phone, please!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A Series of Fortunate Events

Not even the mighty YouTube can help me find a Woody Woodpecker cartoon episode that used to be one of my childhood favourites.
Walter Lantz Animation studio - Universal Pictures
In it, with each hasty step he takes, Woody gets into more and more trouble, being chased by a "bad guy" vulture, while the narrator calmly chimes in, after each scene: “None of this would have happened if only Woody reported this to the police”. 
The Belgrade kids I grew up with will remember the magical time of 7:15 PM when a single cartoon aired each day on the first of the two TV channels, right before the evening news. You read that right -- two. Welcome to the ’70’s in Serbia. 
TV Belgrade cartoon announcement - channel 1
 The narrator’s line in Serbian goes: “Svega ovoga ne bi bilo, da je Pera odmah otišao u policiju”. All throughout my childhood, this line was something we used while playing, getting into more trouble, trying to sound as calm as the cartoon narrator. Little did I know, that the same line would become one of the best metaphors of my life.

Here is how: I am here. Now. It is safe to say I am ridiculously happy. As in: some days it gets a bit ridiculous, but most days I am happy. Very happy. 

How did it happen? How does one get to claim happiness? 

One of the go-to wisdom souls I look up to when I have a matter to resolve is Martha Beck, a life coach. She might not yet be aware of it, but she sits on my invisible Board of Directors, often advising me on how to interpret certain life events (Martha, you rock!). In her book “Stirring by Starlight” she describes the technique called Telling Your Life Story Backward (click for work-book).

Technically, it’s what Woody Woodpecker cartoon kept suggesting @7:15 PM.

At the time of this writing, I'm 45 and living the life I have always wished for: crazy proud of my oldest son - an engineering student, totally smitten with my husband and daily entertained/exhausted by the two little “LEGO” & “Thomas the Tank Engine” obsessed boys. I have incredible friends. My close family - we're really close. My far-away family in Serbia - we're really close too! People I work with - the best. Even my in-laws rock! We share our time between bustling Toronto and Florida sunshine. #LOVEIT

But, how did I get here? If last week's post sounded too easy (it's because it really IS easy), here is the Martha Beck's/Woody Woodpecker's way in deciphering life's landmark moments. It is fun, empowering and very revealing. You should give it a try!

My TOP 10 seemingly unfortunate events and how they channeled this Happily Ever RIGHT NOW:

10. Western Medicine failed me, dictating that: “For the rest of your life you will live with debilitating muscle weakness and fainting spells.”
I had to un-learn what I learned in pharmacy school, seek alternate help and put my trust in a Chinese Medicine man. He healed my symptoms in a jiffy and cleared the way for two fabulously easy, late-in-life pregnancies, suggesting to me that ‘ticking biological clock’ might not exist after all. I am a mother of three!

9. West Nile Virus which left me sick and in bed for 6 months.
Instead of the typical dating scenario of 'who called who first' & exploring city’s shee-shee-foo-foo restaurants, I truly got to know my Mr.Right Now (and husband-to-be) as he continued to visit me at home. He would sit by my bedside and bring his dog for my son to play with. We fell in love in between my 40+ C spikes of fever. His wooing me with watermelon instead of flowers, became one of our favourite 'dating' stories! #CHEAPDATE

8. My mother battled breast cancer (and she is a survivor!)
My mom is my bestie - this was the scariest thing I have ever encountered. When her oncologist confirmed the diagnosis, I excused myself and fainted in the hallway of the Princess Margaret Hospital. This led to my “trial by fire” initiation to Life Coaching - many years, courses and clients later, I remain fulfilled and inspired by how much a little extraordinary work can do for me and everyone around me.

7. My close encounter with the beast called Depression
Many years of the adrenaline-laden life-and-death decision making finally came to claim their due. It's Saturday and I am in bed, unable to get up and wishing the mattress would open up and swallow me. I need the king size feather duvet wrapped tightly on top of me so that no one can hear me sob. Especially not my son. Feelings of guilt and shame are suffocating me. This teaches me how to ask for help and then to humbly receive all the help I could get. This also brought me my life’s BFF. Love you L.! 

6. I divorced for the second time
It simply didn’t work. The marriage. But, boy, did it work on the true life-long friendship side of things! Not only for me, but for my son too. Till this day he calls him dad. They have so much in common. This shattered the last stigma of my life’s unfavourable statistics (aka double divorcee with a child) and introduced the big picture, big time. This whole writing idea is his. Big hug M.! 

Just epic... Beat this Mini Coupe!
5. Immediately after we immigrated to Canada, the biggest snow in 100 years dumped on Toronto. Mel Lastman, then Mayor, called the army to shovel, as the busiest highway had to close down. 
Our 16th anniversary of being 'adopted' is in December.  
Thank You, Canada! 
Day one though, while still jet-lagged, I got a job, a map and a company car. Up to that point, I have never driven a car (other than a Yugo in driving school). My first year I would bank 60k in mileage… the first 30k through the XXL winter of 1999. #KICKASSDRIVER

4. NATO threats bombing Belgrade, Canadian Embassy moves out of Serbia, taking my file somewhere.
This story has a Fairy God-Mother -- my sister, a recent immigrant, a pharmacist, who walked into the HR office of the company she worked for, and ‘sold’ me so well, they decided to interview me and then offer me a job. It gets better: they actually hired a top-notch immigration lawyer, who did the impossible even before I earned for a bottle of water. He dug out our misplaced file from the Embassy in Vienna, refreshed my case and mailed our visa’s, leaving my toddler and me 48h to pack our lives into four suitcases and leave Serbia. You kreyZ M.!

Three months after we left, NATO bombed Belgrade

3. I lost 50% of my salary as a pharmacist, to fellow Bosnian-refugee colleagues, making it impossible to afford more than diapers, one chicken and a dozen eggs per month.
Where do I go with my baby? Stay in the city? Move to the countryside? Immigrate? Cutting roots at age 29 was scary. Leaving my sick parent was guilt-ridden. Gambling my relationship to the long-distance version of it was heart-wrenching. Still, staying in Belgrade became impossible.

2. At the receiving end of hurtful gossip 
My baby was a few months old and I was eager to catch the first rays of spring sunshine, while sporting the stroller my parents bought. As I proudly pushed my boy through our neighbourhood, two middle-aged women observed us sitting on a nearby bench. I didn’t know them. Passing them, I made a little nod as they were still looking at me intently. Thinking I was out of earshot, one said: “That’s the one I was telling you about - her husband left her when she was 9 months pregnant! Can you believe it???” #IGOTTOGETOUTOFHERE became a thought

1. Those women were right: My first husband did leave me when I was 9 months pregnant
This month, we will be marking the 19th anniversary with a Texas sized T-bone steak, BBQ'd to perfection and topped up with onions, a great Serbian culinary tradition. None of this wondrous life would have been possible without him ditching us. Thank you I.S.!!!
“None of this would have happened if only Woody reported this to the police”
Photographs, especially the ones prior to the digital era of the 'selfie' capture mostly happy occasions - travels, celebrations, accomplishments. A new car. Looking closely into them, it is not that easy to find out much about your once younger self, besides the company we kept, sense of fashion and perhaps, eating habits.

Instead of photographs, it's better to look at life as a mini-memoir, in order to capture the real transformation. A fine lace made out of hardships and heartbreaks. 
Before we all get caught up again in the New Year's resolution frenzy, let's zoom in on the 'rough times', in retrospect. Tell your own life story backward, but no awfulizing allowed! Honour each item as a badge of honour that it is. If used wisely, they can all lead to recognizing remarkable in life. So, wake up. Rise up. Speak up. Un-learn. Reframe. Grow out of the confines of the 'small & safe' life. Ditch the 'small and safe'! 
Then realize that life is nothing but a series of fortunate events. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Hostile Takeover of Me Inc.

A friend of mine recently reached a tough point: her young child, diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes earlier this year, cried at bed time asking her mommy why is she not ‘normal’ like other kids. Why does she have to live with the pain of needles for the rest of her life? 

My first reaction… Sending a giant cyber hug. Empathizing. Meeting them both right there, in the tough, tempted to join them in bargaining, who should get this instead. I worked for a while with Type 1 patients and their families, sitting at their kitchen tables, listening, grasping the magnitude of how much life changes in a single stressful day, when the pancreas in question can no longer squirt the life-sustaining portion of insulin. I observed how frightened parents immediately volunteered their well being, stepping in front of the firing squad of ultra-fine needle-tips and blood-testing lancets, to protect their offspring. My youngest patient was 18 months old. My oldest 74, just diagnosed with LADA, requiring multiple daily injections of insulin, therefore resembling “juvenile” diabetes. The question always seems to be the same: “Why me?”

This question is the toughest to answer when it comes to medical conditions. No-one purposefully sets out to contract diabetes, eating 6kg of sugar a day, challenging the pancreas to pump or die. Same goes for cancer, stroke or other diseases. 

Next on the "Why me?" list -- heartbreaks: left at the altar, left pregnant, left for the best friend or a distant cousin… The whole industry of Harlequin novels heavily depends on this drama! The wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert in her memoir Eat, Pray, Love gives an account of a refugee from a present-day genocide whose first confession, after boarding a rescue vessel, was that the boy she liked at the camp and who she thought returned those feelings, actually liked another girl.

More “Why me?” scenarios -- Financial crap: "I don’t have enough." " I’m drowning in debt." "I can’t afford a vacation." "I’ve been downsized." "I don't wanna pay child support any moooooore!"

My intention is not to undermine life’s real problems. There are many and they can be devastating. 

Instead, my idea is to try on another question - like a new hat - every single time we are tempted to say: “Why me?” No guarantees, but it just might work. I have tried it many times and surprisingly, it pretty much always fits better. More importantly, it also FEELS better.

It is simple: Why not me? 

And its variations: 

Why the heck not me?! 
Who else but me?!! 
It should be me!! 
Bring it on, Universe!!!

Simple wisdoms don’t come from self-help books. At least not as easily. My simple wisdom came from being a #Serbian, #Immigrant, #Single, #Mother - a chip I willingly sported on my shoulder for quite a while. I dreaded our first Father’s Day card decorating workshop in school. To the ‘limited’ Me Inc. this was an open invitation for awkwardness, discomfort or even bullying, my child would have to endure, that year and every year. So unfair. Why him? Why me?

Thankfully, my favourite sport has always been “400m hurdles - women” down at the Life-Pondering track. The little twist in that common yet loaded question came as a whiff of a rare, divinely-smelling flower: Why NOT me?

Who else would be better equipped to show this boy how to live abundantly and shatter all limits? Who better to demonstrate how to LMAO at adversity, using it as the perfect wave to surf to where I actually desire to be? Why NOT me to model that “all news is great news!”? Every time. Who better to show him how to play, like a pro, every single card I have been dealt in life? 
The message changed quickly to:

"I <3 being a Serbian Immigrant Single Mother. Watch me!" 

So what to do when sitting with those difficult questions about health, finances, lovers or all of the above & then some? 

Pull a HOSTILE TAKEOVER on the old, outdated You Inc. Its fearful, angry and unkind board of directors haven’t been serving the shareholders well and should be ousted in one fell swoop. Good news - you don’t have to wait for April, for the company’s next annual meeting. 

Do it now. 
Gather them up, then OUST them all! Oh, how I love that powerful word - OUST! It sounds like OUT on ssssteroids. Or for my Serbian crowd, МРШ У РУПУ!!!

To some tribes-mates who liked you better when you were frightened or miserable, this will look like a major disruption. A threat. Oh well…

But to the New You Inc.... Ohhh, the dreams! The possibilities! The deliciousness of pulling your own strings and showing the world and your children how it’s done! 

The time is perfect for it NOW - that’s why the original discomfort burned so intensely. 
To jolt you. To wake you up. 
Step one: go smother your self silly in kindness and hugs, forgiveness and appreciation. 
You did the best you knew how, up until now. 
Then look closely and you will find your superhero cape has been hidden underneath your shirt all along. Really, why not you? And by seeing how you do it, your kids will find their own capes too!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Art of Showing up Honest

The third summer we've settled in Canada, I took my then pre-schooler to the amusement park in Southern Ontario. The year was 2001 and I felt quite proud, as a relatively new immigrant, to be exposing my kid to more than just City of Toronto attractions, such as Toronto ZOORoyal Ontario Museum or Centre Island. The movie Blackfish would come 12 years later, helping me make a decision to never, EVER take my kids see the whales in captivity again. 

Few days after our outing, it was time to take Filip for a physical. The paediatrician, our wise Dr. G always wanting to involve the child in the yearly exam experience, asked:

- Filip, how old are you this summer?
- I am five and a half - he replied readily... then added - but last weekend I was four, when mama was buying tickets for Marineland!

There was no time for blushing as Dr.G bursted into laughter, clearly impressed with his little patient's verbal and observational skills.

- Trust me, I know... I have four kids... It's a total rip off!

Although I laughed with him, the only rip off I felt was in the pit of my stomach. There is a hash-tag for it... #PARENTINGFAIL 

What I "saved" at that gate that summer day had a value of about 35$. What I almost completely spent that day was the credit every parent has in their child's eyes. Up to that point, I was still the smartest, the prettiest, the "bestest" mama in the whole wide world. 

A day later, we visited Toronto Humane Society handing them a cheque for 50$. On our way there, with Filip in the booster seat, I showed up honest. It wasn't easy, hence the rear-view mirror trick. But it was an exercise in me coming clean in front of ME. I regained my respect for me. My boy simply continued loving me... Then he asked me to adopt a dog!

Money is no longer the most valuable currency - transparency is. One can hide from Instagram. Refrain from Twitter. Tune up Facebook's Privacy settings to the max. Delete the LinkedIn account to cover all traces of employment history. And yet, no amount of cyber-security expertise will ever help if one can not show up honest when looking at themselves in the mirror. 

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome, Добродошли to the proverbial gates of "Marineland" (pun fully intended). What do you have to declare? C'mon, once it's done for the first time, it's easy! Then just keep showing up honest. Take care of any outstanding debts, of any kind -- one way or the other they are always paid in full. 

Later that afternoon @the home of Hasson's (it's been 14 years and I have a pre-schooler again!):

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Friend Like Who?

We've got it all wrong in the "greeting card" isle.

Wall after non-virtual wall in bookstores, pharmacies and bargain stores, blatantly profess' our only two options: Holidays & Occasions. The subsections go into listing of all religious and some pagan Holidays, including the commercialized-to-insanity Valentine's Day and the obscure Veteran's day (not kidding, it's posted on one of the major sites). Veteran's Day was yesterday, how many cards did you hand out? I thought so. Me too.

Then comes Occasions, with Birthdays, Anniversaries, Bridal Showers, Weddings, Babies, Congrats... For the most part, every single time I got one of these, they left me like a dead ECG, flatlining. When an occasion itself is joyous, what is the point of spending the time and money rummaging through the options, wrinkling the envelopes (I know who you are!), only to convey "Ditto"? Those happy days, I would much rather read an abbreviated text message, letting me know they know... Then, real people will get together to celebrate in real time. What about the mind-numbingly designed Sympathy category? Give me a hug instead. Please. If you can't say it yourself, say nothing. Silence is always more comforting than some dreadful brown flower and a convoluted font in stylish, burgundy.

When did we forget how to be real? How often is that card as meaningful as an unedited thought you would blurb to yourself? Calling it exactly like it is, brings relief. And relief matters most!

This week, a lot of my friends and colleagues went through the discomfort of being downsized. This is North America... it happens every day to someone. Still, there is no card for it. In the career section, there is allotted space only for Promotions and Retirements. As much as it sucks hearing those news, re-evaluating what went wrong as you hug that box with your desk belongings, looking down on your way out, likely calculating the next mortgage payment or rent... there is no "comfort" that a team of creative geniuses thought was worth the effort. Or ink. Career counsellors will tomorrow point out that this is now a fresh chance to evaluate what feels more like playing rather than working, taking into consideration ALL your strengths... But where is my card, dammit?

 My personal favourite: the BRIDE franchise! The "Princess-for-a-Day" hoax!

I confess, despite my fabulously rich track record of "I do's" I never had a Bridal shower. Excuses in chronological order include: It wasn't a custom in my home country / Sherif in Illinois was not up to it / There was literally no time between a mikvah and a chuppah. That's kind of a funny story for another time... Still, no regrets.

What I do regret however, was not having a marriage break-up shower, when my 'starter' spouse got mate-poached, leaving 10 days before I gave birth to our first baby. That's when I wanted my BFFs and Gal Pals, sisters, wise aunts and mouthy neighbours, to all crowd in around me, loud, opinionated and insightful, gifts and treats in hand so we can reset my profound sense of dumb-founded-ness, fear and shame. Have a swear fest (Serbians are big on swearing) until my water breaks...

I had enough! Today, me @FriendLikeMe, is inventing a brand new category named "Calling it like it is". In between two predictable "Happy Valentine's Day, honey!" one can receive a: "My bad! I behaved like a jerk. Please forgive me!" card. Or the numberless "Happy TOday to you!!!" card, cake is optional. In lieu of a Xmas card: "The right time to mail this card coincides with the right time to cut your credit card". In fairness, Hanukkah cards should clearly state: "Yup... no gifts, just calories. Mazel Tov!". Retirement: "For crying out loud, quit 5 years earlier and play, play play!".

This was an unusually stressful week for me and those around me. Besides the corporate restructuring, let me say it, as cryptically as I can, that the aforementioned mate-poacher was dissatisfied with the lack of respect for yet another attempt to justify why child support cheque was not deserved, by the student-step-son they have never met. This was expressed in two hefty volumes of epic rambling, no one had the patience to comment on in reply. At least until she achieves temporary sobriety.

Instead, I needed a card. Actually, no... I needed a postcard. I needed the 21st century's equivalent of the postal carriage, delivering a tiny yet publicly observable slap on that cheek, that is oh so deserved... or maybe not.

After all, it was just one rough week. Then, again I can always throw myself into Twitter!