Kidnapped by Terrorists – Are Not All Men Created Equal?

In August of 2011 my husband’s family member, Warren Weinstein, was kidnapped from the supposedly secure compound where he was working in Pakistan. Warren has a Ph.D. in international law and economics from Columbia University and is an international development expert with 25 years of experience. He is a linguist and a Rhodes Scholar who has dedicated his life to the service of those less fortunate than he.

The release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl but not Warren has dismayed family members as noted by the New York Times article, which quotes Elaine Weinstein, Warren’s wife, as wondering why the U.S. government is willing to negotiate with terrorists for some prisoners but not others. Acting as spokesperson, Warren’s daughter spoken with CNN and appeared with Anderson Cooper; various other media outlets have taken up the story.

As my husband, Marc, has noted repeatedly, at a time in his life when most people are thinking about retirement, Warren, who will be 73 years old shortly, was working to make people’s lives better in Asia and Africa.

Please share this story with everyone you know.

How Did Cinderella Get Into Her Stepmother’s House in the First Place?

princess bookHow did Cinderella get into her stepmother’s house in the first place? If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, then this book is for you. The Witch and the Baby Princess by David Rich is a fun, action packed explanation of Cinderella’s background along with the events that led up to the whole stepmother scenario.

More than just a prequel, however, this book is meant as a story for kids and parents to share. The author, an avid reader, active storyteller and involved father, didn’t want to just hand his daughters a book – he wanted to create something he could share with them and that they could read together, which is exactly what he has done.

This book does not have a big, glossy cover or thousands of pictures with a few words on each page. This is a full-on, meaty story. Oh, it has a bunch of really adorable illustrations, but that’s not the focus here. The focus is the story itself. It is meant for a parent and a child to sit down and read together. There are words in it that a child under twelve is not going to understand. There are concepts such as the shades of grey between good and evil, which parents should be excited to discuss with their children. The book is rife with big, tough topics such as friendship, love, beauty, goodness, envy, and expectations that are designed to spark good talks between children and the adults who love them.

What Rich has done is created a springboard for parents so that topics that can be hard to broach for adults and harder for kids to understand, become gentle and accessible for both parties.

The story itself is quaint, sweet, and lovingly told. In a land far away, a baby is born to a great witch, but the queen of the fairies does not want the baby to be evil and instills in the young girl a conscience and a particle of free will. What the child grows up to do and become, and how she uses her gifts in the context of her parents’ expectations of her becoming an evil witch, is the crux of the story. It’s easy to see how the idea of parental expectation is juxtaposed against the personality of the child – good lessons for parents and children alike. The characters are drawn with great care and attention to detail. At any moment I could “see” each person and the location as well due to the strong and exhaustive descriptions that only add, not detract, from the plot itself. Emotion is tended to with care and the plot moves along with a mix of action and feelings.

In a world where the bonds between children and their parents have become increasingly fractured, kudos to David Rich for creating a lovely story, as well as something to serve as a binder of families.

Guest Post: Life Advice for my Kids

booksI’ve known my friend David Sample for more years than I’d care to count, (think: attended my wedding; suffered through my first attempts at cooking and is still friends with me…) and since the beginning, I was sure be would be a fantastic father. Time has proven me right.  Not only does he do the standard stuff with his three kids, like build Pinewood Derby cars and act as timer for a swim meet, he is also very thoughtful about his parenting. Here is his list of 60 items he’d like to tell his kids, and perhaps you’d like to share with yours:

Life advice for my kids, by David Sample

1. Live close to work if you can, even if you need to have a much smaller house/apartment.
2. If you spend your life comparing yourself to other people you will always be unhappy. There is always someone that is smarter, better looking, richer, etc…
3. Don’t wear loafers with a suit.
4. Learn how to dance.
5. If you meet someone with a funny name, don’t make a joke about it. The person has already heard them all.
6. Try not to get mad at asshole drivers. It isn’t worth the energy.
7. Openly acknowledge awkward moments. It makes them a little less awkward. (Dan Savage)
8. Don’t gossip. At some point, it will come back to bite you.
9. When you go on a date, turn off your phone and put it away.
10. The human tendency is for expenditures to rise to meet income (and often exceed it). Plan with this in mind. (corollary of Murphy’s Law)
11. A properly knotted tie has a dimple where the tie comes out of the knot.
12. Take a driving class.
13. If you are physically attractive, remember to be a solid chocolate bunny: attractive on the outside and the inside. Hollow chocolate bunnies are lame. (Felicia Day)
14. Unless you enjoy the arguing, don’t talk politics. You aren’t going to change their mind, and they aren’t going to change yours.
15. “If it sounds good, it IS good.” – Duke Ellington. Listen to the music that you like and don’t worry about what other people think is cool or lame.
16. Just because someone asks you a question, does not mean that you have to answer it.
17. When driving, leave the other guy a way out, and try to use the two-second rule.
18. A tattoo does not make you unique.
19. Just because something is currently “in style” does not mean that it looks good on you.
20. Learn how to tell a funny story if you can.
21. Pride commeth before the fall. Stay humble. (Bible)
22. Take the time to carefully proofread before you turn in your work.
23. When you are planning your wedding, if you can, allow parents to bring their kids, allow single people to bring a guest, and have an open bar. People are more important than decorations (but not more important than the dress).
24. If you need to precede what you are saying with “no offense,” you probably shouldn’t say it.
25. Create new family traditions and continue the old ones that you like.
26. Don’t let yourself be “friend-zoned.” Express your desires early. If the response isn’t the one you want, move on.
27. Weddings are about the bride. The groom is a prop.
28. Choose a career in which you can find ethical expression.
29. Remember to honestly compliment people when you can. We hear about our faults too often.
30. Call your parents.
31. There is no such thing as “f” buddies. One of the people always wants more.
32. If you don’t know where to start, talk to someone who knows about it. If you don’t know anyone, there is probably a good book about it.
33. Don’t ask someone out via text message. Do it over the phone or in person. Always break up in person.
34. Hard work is almost always rewarded.
35. A vehicle is a tool, not a fashion statement. Spend accordingly.
36. If you are a “spender,” marry a “saver,” and let the “saver” handle the money.
37. If you are a “saver” and your spouse is a “spender,” put your spouse on an allowance.
38. A task will expand to fit the time allotted for it. Plan accordingly. (A corollary of Murphy’s Law)
39. Couples fight most often about money or sex. Keep this in mind when you are selecting a spouse.
40. Keep secrets.
41. Before you judge someone, remember that each of us thinks that anyone that drives faster than us is crazy and anyone that drives slower than us is an idiot. We can’t all be right. (George Carlin)
42. For men: when buying dress socks, buy the ones that come up to your knees. We don’t need to see your hairy shins when you sit down.
43. Start reading to your kids early, and don’t stop.
44. Floss daily.
45. Most women I know don’t mind receiving flowers, having the door opened for them, and having the man pay for dinner (notwithstanding our advances in feminism).
46. If you find yourself saying “those people,” “them” or “they” in reference to a particular group, the next thing out of your mouth will probably be bigoted.
47. Before you go out on a date, spend some time thinking about things to talk about.
48. In my opinion, a man needs no more jewelry for day to day living than a nice watch, and a wedding ring (if appropriate). For dress-up, add cuff-links – that’s it.
49. Don’t have sex until you can maturely and honestly talk to your partner about STD’s and birth control and you can buy condoms without blushing. (Salt-n-Peppa)
50. Wrap it up every time.
51. Puns get a bad rap. A good one will make most people laugh or at least smile and groan.
52. Bust your ass your freshman year of college learning how to be a good student. There will be plenty of time later to goof off.
53. When you ask someone out on a date, ask them out for a specific day and time and to do a specific thing. If the response is “I am busy,” ask again. If you get three I-am-busies, stop asking.
54. You will regret failing to try more than you will regret trying and failing.
55. Comb-overs are lame. Embrace your baldness.
56. In a marriage, apologize early and often.
57. Remember that the news is selling something, and that death and blood sell. The state of the world is not as bad as they say it is.
58. Date someone at least two years before marrying them – it’s a dopamine thing.
59. Remember that correlation does not equal causation.
60. Opinions (like everything in this list) are like assholes – everyone has one, and most of them stink. So, don’t get too worked up when someone expresses an opinion that you disagree with.

Teens and Parents and Communicaton

tin cansSome days are better than others with a teen and a tween in my home.  Last week I fought with Bailey about money, and with Sydney about her hair.  That doesn’t even scratch the surface of a few contentious evenings regarding schoolwork, reading, and Facebook chatting.  I don’t want to make it sound more difficult than it is, but it is definitely different.  I keep wondering at this phenomenon.  Different how? Different from when? It turns out that in my six months of absence due to successful cancer treatment, my kids changed as much as I did.

In the past two months since being reunited with them, I’ve had to get used to a high school freshman who is more likely to think about dates and ski trips than the video games over which he used to obsess.  (It’s not that he never plays anymore; he just doesn’t obsess.)  I now have a middle school daughter who gave up her colorful backpack in favor of a trendy Vera Bradley bag to be just like everyone else. I’ve had to get to know these kids all over again.  It turns out that Sydney loves a TV show called “Dance Moms” and has switched from playing the violin to playing the guitar because it’s an instrument she can sing with.  Bailey was on the freshman debate team this year and has discovered a passion for argument. He has buddies across ages and genders with whom he talks daily.

The boundaries are new; the thought processes are different. For the first few weeks, I was arguing with Bailey all the time until someone said to me, “Aimee, you have an entire lifetime to be on his case, but you only have three more years to build your relationship with him because once he’s out of the house, the building part is done.”  The words resonated: I have to think about I want Bailey to interact with me not just now, but in the future. How on earth was I going to achieve that balance between strengthening our relationship and being an authoritative parent?

Being a reader, I sought out writing to and for parents – often mothers – with teenagers.  A lot of it focuses on encouraging the mothers, validating their frustration and acknowledging what a tough time it is for the entire household.  But in general, having read parenting books, articles and blogs for all of my child’s life, I note that so many of the articles I found on the topic minister to desperation.  Sharing becomes more difficult because instead of cute little problems, our kids have bigger problems, ones that could potentially affect the rest of their lives.  That little saying about little kids and little problems turns out to be true!

My favorite piece, posted by my friend Carrie, is “Dear Lonely Mom of Older Kids.”  It’s a blog post that reminds parents that they’re not alone – and that parenting middle school and high school kids can be a lonely business.  Fewer people are willing to talk about the trials and tribulations of having older kids and the bigger problems it can cause in the family.  The piece is reassuring, comforting Moms and telling them that everything will turn out all right – eventually – and Moms will discover an inner strength they never knew they had in the process.

To that end, I also enjoyed the piece given to me by my friend Jacqueline from New York Magazine cleverly titled “The Collateral Damage of a Teenager.”  People never talk about how tough it is on the entire family when the cuddly kid turns into a sullen teen.  The piece is long but worth the read, covering topics such as parent conflict (with the teen and with each other) and resolution, sibling effect, and the most interesting part, about how and why the suffering ebbs but changes once a kid leaves for college.

These days my friends and I discuss our kids in light of behavior expectations, technology interruptions and distractions, and getting into college.  But we’re still talking.  One friend’s kid can’t pass math; one friend’s kid got on to the baseball team while another kid didn’t.  There are ups and downs and the only way to survive them is to derive support from those who have gone through it before or are going through it with you.  It doesn’t matter if your kid isn’t getting a 4.0, playing an instrument and five sports.  Parents need other parents who won’t judge or compare. We need to do that for each other.

And then there’s the communication with the kids themselves.  I have learned to listen more and talk less.  I have learned to ask questions before making demands.  I have learned to shoot off a quick text instead of calling if I want a response.  I shouldn’t say “I have learned” but rather, “I AM learning.” It all happens in fits and starts and some days are more successful than others. My children and I had to spend some serious time apart from each other and so we’re all interested in spending time together now.  That instinct might fade, but it might not. So far the kids are still communicating with me. What a gift.

Everyone grows and changes over time and it seems that the trick is to allow kids to do it safely and securely while hanging on to your own sanity – even if by a thread.  I have no magic solutions or ideas, but simply gratitude for the kids I have raised so far and the loving friends who laugh with me as we go through it all together.

Hearts in February

hearts1Inspired by my friend Cathy Michaud, I am putting a heart on each of my kids’ doors for every day in February.  On the hearts I write something I love about them. 

As you probably know, I was away from the kids for more than six months due to my successful battle with lymphoma, so I wanted to do something special, something meaningful for them to remind them that I’m here, I’m here to stay and I lohearts2ve them.  Beyond that, though, being away has given me a little distance on the kids and I feel like I’m looking at them with fresh eyes.  These kids are not perfect, not even close!  But for an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old, they’re pretty great people with a myriad of talents, ideas, and activities.  These hearts also serve to remind me of the things that make them special – to me and to others with whom they interact.  And it shows them specifically that they are valued by their dad and me. I continue to be grateful.

The Grace of a Moment

CLately, instead of thinking about big things, I’ve been struck by little ones.  Here are a few examples:

Today Marc and I were driving to Bailey’s school to meet with his counselor.  There’s nothing wrong but this is our first child and we don’t know how to guide him, what he’s capable of doing, and what his options are, ergo, we asked for help.  I was sitting there in the car when it struck me.  It was this feeling of, for lack of a better word, shininess.  The sun was peeking out and burning off the morning fog; we were in one of the most exciting cities in the world; we were about to talk about our young teenager who, as of today, is still one of the “good” kids; and we were together doing all that.  The immediacy of it made me catch my breath a little with the sheer gratitude I felt.

The same thing happened last week.  Marc, the kids and I were sitting together at the dinner table doing nothing special except eating some yummy food when one of the kids brought up the idea of patents and patent protection (Marc is a patent attorney).  A very lively and interesting discussion ensued with the kids asking some very pertinent questions.  While Marc was answering one of these questions, that shiny feeling struck me.  I just sat back for a moment and watched the three of them interact, soaking it in and inking the picture of it in my mind more fully.

Over the weekend, we were out to dinner with some close friends at a wonderful Mexican restaurant in the trendy Marunouchi district of Tokyo. It was my first time venturing out to dinner and taking part in any sort of night life since being back. I had to stop and take a breath from the wonderful realization that struck me – I was sitting there in that hopping joint of a place, having a fantastic mojito, and surrounded by people who care deeply about me. How lucky is that?? (It really was a grand mojito, by the way)

I can list twenty-odd more little tiny events like that over the past week or ten days that have struck me deeply.  They were not moments of deep and lasting meaning.  On the contrary, they were moments of near-meaninglessness.  But they were moments. And they were my moments – little things that were important to me and maybe nobody else.  Two or so weeks ago I was so overwhelmed with the task of getting back to my life that I couldn’t even see these snippets. Progress.

Clearly my gratitude-o-meter is running overtime as I start to feel more and more normal – and get more and more in sync with my general life and the lives of the people around me.

I don’t know how long I’ll feel this stroke of grace, but I do hope it lasts a while.

Lessons in Control and Empowerment

CI’ve been reading Sheryl Sandberg’s controversial book Lean In.  Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, Sandberg took a lot of heat for her views about women in the workplace.  Many women felt her expectations and ideas were great for a family of a certain means and that her advice is not applicable to “every-woman.” Sandberg writes convincingly and powerfully, but many of her suggestions come with the double-edged sword of a position of privilege.  That being said, the book has wonderful ideas about how both men and women can change themselves AND the workplace to create an environment of equality.

One thing that resonated with me is Sandberg’s chapter on how women need to make their husbands true partners if they want to succeed in the workplace.  By true partner, Sandberg means that division of labor has to be equitable in the home when both partners work.  Sandberg admits that in her house, the labor is divided along gender lines – he pays the bills; she plans the birthday parties. She also says that it’s a constantly evolving balance that they negotiate often.  The key, she says, as with many things in marriage in general, is communication, not always an easy task in itself.

In the chapter, Sandberg encourages, no, instructs women is to empower their husbands.  She cautions that if women are constantly criticizing the way men actually DO the jobs they are assigned in the house, then the men won’t feel motivated to continue doing the jobs and women will be worse off than before – doing their husbands’ jobs themselves when the men give up for lack of support.

This reminded me of a story.  When my son Bailey was born, my control-freaky self went ballistic trying to have everything done perfectly.  It actually took a therapist to tell me that it didn’t matter if I did the top of the carseat buckle first and my husband buckled the bottom latch first – the end result is a baby who is safe in the car.  I had actually been criticizing the way my husband was buckling the baby into his seat! It’s no wonder I was feeling overworked and annoyed all the time – if my way was the best and only way to do everything, then I was causing my own problem by making Marc feel unmotivated to do anything for the baby, or for me. I learned to let go – a little.  Letting go is still an evolving process for me fourteen years later.

But is precisely now, fourteen years later, that this lesson is coming back to haunt me, both in light of the carseat story and Sandberg’s point. I have been in the U.S. since June taking chemotherapy for lymphoma.  My husband took the kids back to Tokyo in August to start school again.  There was no reason to take them out of their “normal” lives in Japan, especially when we don’t have a home in the U.S. and I was in no position to take care of them.  Marc has done an exceptional job of primary parenting so far, with about six weeks to go (if all goes well).  The kids are happy, healthy, doing well in school and haven’t missed a single event. Marc attended back to school nights, grade-level coffees, football games and violin lessons. He does some of these things in our “normal” life, but not all of them.  He has done it all while holding down a full time job.  Yes, we have a great nanny, so that has helped, but the primary responsibility is still Marc’s.

My job, my only job, has been to focus on getting well.  That being said, I generally talk to the kids twice a day and try to help where I can – sending emails and doing any necessary online research.  It’s not much, but it’s the best I can do. There are a thousand things I think of every day I would like to do for my kids – or do differently than Marc is doing.  I would like to handle the homework situation in a stricter way, make arrangements for playdates further in advance and even allow the kids less TV time.  But I would never tell Marc any of that (please keep my secret). As often as possible I sit on my hands and keep my mouth shut. I want him to feel like he’s doing a great job and motivated to continue the hard work. If I criticize, he’ll just feel defeated and then we would all be up a creek.  I mean it when I say Marc is doing an amazing job – handling everything with grace and aplomb.  Even when I don’t agree 100%, I still cheer him on.  From what he tells me, Marc appreciates the support I can give him, and in some ways, is enjoying the experience – certainly enjoying being with his kids more than he ever has been in the past.

This is yet another unexpected gift cancer has given us: Marc has had a taste of primary parenting and consequent juggling, and I have had a real lesson in abdicating control.  Obviously I’m not yet sure what parts of this we will take away from the experience, but I hope we have all gotten messages about control and support – both in giving and taking.  Sheryl Sandberg is right: it’s not about perfection – it’s about empowerment. Marc and I can appreciate each other for doing the very best job we are capable of doing, and thus all four of us are motivated to improve on our best selves.