As most of my clients and associates enjoy a holiday this weekend, I am inspired to share some insights about my most important job, being a parent. I have a 12 year old daughter Jordan who is spirited, inquisitive, sensitive and a very talented singer, dancer and actress. My son Eric is 18 and has exceeded me in so many ways that his base of knowledge and insights are something that I often tap into. He also is very talented, particularly in acting but his passion is religion.
I made many choices in my life in favor of parenthood including getting out of retail so I could have more balance in my life especially when my kids were young, and as I have written about the stationery and bridal industry, I ‘ve dabbled into writing about parenting. So here is an article I wrote when my kids were younger.
Some Fatherly Advice
My mother always told me that I would never understand how much she loves me until I became a parent. As a parent with a fourteen year old son, Eric and a eight year old daughter, Jordan, I can only begin to understand the selfless love she had for me in allowing me to stay out until all hours of the night even though she could not fall asleep until I came home and allow me to make numerous mistakes even though she knew I was making them. Even so she was rooting for me so hard for me to be right.
When Eric was born, my wife Stacy and I had a newly purchased home in Teaneck waiting for him and a commitment that we would be proactive in fostering a Jewish identity. Besides loving him, I knew little else and could garner very little from any book I read on parenting.
However, in my heart and mind parenting was the most important part of my purpose and I was going to do everything in my consciousness to be the best parent I can possibly be. The first step was to pay daily attention to my children as human beings and be there for them in ways that were right for each child. Secondly, I reflected on my own personal development, my experience as a child and my perception of my own parents. This introspection continues to help me not only to guide me on action steps to achieve my own goals of parenthood but equally important it has helped to determine steps not to take.
Here are some of my own insights from continuing journey in parenting that I think have been valuable in the rearing of my children:
Be aware of your energy level at different times of the day and week. Have the energy that the activity you participate with your child demands. An hour of quality time where you have the mental and physical energy to able to fully concentrate and rise up to an experience with your children a few times a week is worth more than daily attempts when you are tired and just doing so out of guilt.
Stacy and I from the very beginning made it a priority to be there for all the milestones and defining moments including birthdays, school plays, recitals, ballgames, and parent teacher conferences. That goes a long way in the quality time department and will reinforce the message how important your children are to you.
Developing and following through on separate rituals with each child is a wonderful way to create strong memories of the separate connection each of your children have with you. I am thankful for the many “Starbucks” coffee locations for allowing me to continue a ritual with my daughter who always wants to go to “the coffee place” and have her chocolate covered graham crackers. While I am drinking my iced decaf, I am having relaxed time to talk with my daughter just the two of us.
Another ritual that I have done through the years is inserting a note with their lunch. For my daughter it is would always be a “I love you” poem like:
I love you more
the a dog loves to bark
I love you more
than a car loves to park
(just tried to keep it simple)
For my older son, it is a tidbit of advise such as:
“Advanced preparation avoids last minute perspiration” (perhaps on a night he was up late doing last minute homework)
Perhaps the most important suggestion in the category of quality time is to begin and end the day with an expression of love, whether it is in words, whether it is a hug, whether it is a call from the cell phone if you are not home.
However, do not smother your child with continuous “I miss you” particularly when they are away. The chances are if they are having a good time, they don’t miss you and feelings of guilt may ensue of why they don’t miss you.
Some parents have the notion that holding back feelings in front of children is showing them strength. Children have feelings that need to be expressed and when parents hold back tears in situations when it is appropriate to cry, even in a situation as simple as watching a movie, you are giving your child an example of suppression. It is a wonderful gift you are giving your children when you are open and show them that life moves you.
Conversely children need to be able to cry without guilt and without being judged. The mourning process for a child is not just confined to death; it could be the loss of the fulfillment of a dream, a break up of a girl or boy friend, or a best friend moving.
All parents make mistakes, overreact, and do regrettable things. The quicker you own up to them the less likely your child will internalize. I try so hard to coach myself through times when my temper is flaring up and on some occasions my temper wins the battle.
However, any time that I really yelled at my children, I almost immediately apologized to them by saying, “what you did may have been wrong, but how I reacted to it was wrong too”. I am hoping this life lesson will be invaluable as an adult where they can heal and diffuse negative situations by being willing to apologize from their heart.
To me nothing is more important in the role of parenting than the fostering of psychological development so that our children can be independent, confident, well-adjusted adults. However I feel it is important to paint a real picture. Do not over-compliment and make every little achievement a major feat. Children need a true gauge of your real feelings about their accomplishments or they will start to doubt you when they compare your superlative feedback compared to what they receive in the real world.
I love my children too much for me to ever want them to experience an ounce of fear of me. My goal is for them to have a ton of respect for me. I try not to pull rank except in an urgent situation. I try to be a gentle wall of strength when saying “no”, trying to have the resolve to maintain my position when I know it is right and explain with respect and patience rather than with wrath and impatience. Sometimes my children have a valid point and I am willing to change my mind.
Among the greatest joys as a parent is to see your children having fun and sharing experiences together. I have found that hunger, fatigue, change in climate are all factors that can needlessly ruin a great family experience.
My van looks like it belongs to a survivalist. It is filled with blankets, pillows, clothing for my entire family, first aid kits, games, snacks, drinks, and videos. I even had blow-up potties and urinals at different points.
I have found on countless occasions overkill on preparation has prevented needless ruination of wonderful family experiences. Rather than react with anger to your children’s complaints and their mood swings, respond with the appropriate remedy. It is usually one of three things: hunger, fatigue or discomfort.
When staying in hotels, a compromise between being cramped in one room and paying double for separate rooms, look for suite hotels that extra amenities like a microwave, refrigerator and extra television. They also provide separate sleeping quarters for you and your children not only for privacy during adult time, but for better quality rest and allow you and your family to have their space. Time-manage your precious vacation days by going to a store (if possible) and buy drinks, snacks and especially breakfast food. Breakfast in the room can help get your kids out of bed, and save time in helping your day get off to a quicker start.
These are some of the parenting strategies that have helped me journey into adolescence. Now I will have to go back to the drawing board.
I cannot explain why I started to write poems about the Holocaust. After reading books such as “Man’s Search For Meaning” and “Night” in my twenties, I was overwhelmed with so many different emotions and thoughts about “how can this have happened?”. I found myself trying to understand what it must have been like. At the same time I found perspective in having gratitude for basic day-to-day privileges of freedom, comfort, safety, nourishment and dignity based on trying to envision what it must have been like for those in ghettos, concentration camps or in hiding living with a daily probability of capture, torture or death.
Please feel free to share with your friends as we approach Holocaust Remembrance Day.
THE A-DOLPH TRAIN
As survival governed
my crowded soul.
Breath was barely my own
crammed with nausea and decay.
On this freight train
every bit of cargo
would move if it could.
with moans instead of horns.
Only my closed eyelids
could buffer the moment.
As my hands would dare
not cover my ears.
For my bent elbows
would deny another’s space.
My back gave some relief
to a neighboring body
as a mattress would to exhaustion.
We were all too numb
As our book of life
turned many pages
in these few hours.
With crude impact
arrival was disclosed.
That momentary stillness
let us hear our hearts
and feel our sweat.
The doors that separated us
from our doom slid open.
Light found each of us
as stark blindness
unfolded into a worse darkness.
Like catatonic sheep
we were a herd
that would not be heard.
Prodded by rifle butts
and hostile shouts
led us to
our slow, random slaughter.
Each branch of all family trees
broken, stacked in separate piles.
With no privilege to sprout
©1992 Brian D. Lawrence
The Hollow – Cost
I smiled and tasted the
blood that spouted out of my gums
as my loose teeth knew it’s purpose.
The shovel I was handed was my
right to another day as long as I didn’t stop.
My spine was thrown for many a curve
but the pain was my mantra.
The dark, smoke filled skies
Clouded my attempts to remember
I wondered if they would notice
As I grazed for anything on the ground
That could put an ounce on my frame.
Every heave of dirt
made room for more.
Nothing was empty for long
As loud motors
Nudged the unresisting meld
Of bones and flesh
To a place of unrest.
Then came the harsh sounds
Of the flock of
synchronous goose steps
that signal our return
The residual ache
remains as we are lined
up and directed to the shower
and wonder what nozzle will be turned.
As the cold water
Numbs my extremities
I am warmed by the probability
Of a tomorrow
As I hold in the coughs and the shivers
And show them I’m a man
Who can work into his grave.
©2001 Brian D. Lawrence
More lies than truth can unfold
More testimony than can ever be told
More death than birth can replace
More pain than time can erase
More layers than can ever be peeled
More wounds than can ever be healed
More loss can ever be felt
More vengeance than can ever be dealt
More fear than courage can curtail
More denial than search can unveil
More betrayal than can ever be amended
More heroism than can ever be commended
More rebellion than can ever be reported
More spirit than can ever be thwarted
©2003 Brian D. Lawrence
My Last Meal
I remember my last meal
I’ll never forget it
The last time I saw my family
The last time my stomach was full
It was one year ago
And every day
I pretend it was yesterday
It is the only way
I can make it to tomorrow
For I cannot let this memory wane
The many smells and tastes
I took for granted
The family that completed my life
Always close and now so far away
Now I’d lick a crumb off a wooden floor
And risk a splinter in my tongue
Just to taste anything but my nausea
I long for my double chin
That I wore as a badge of contentment
Which is now a gaunt bone wallpapered with skin
Every minute takes so long to pass
Till I get my daily ration of
Bread and water
Every day having to tie the rope tighter
To keep my pants from falling off
As I look around me
Every day there are less of us
And more human landfill
I will continue to work
It is so easy to lift those starved bodies
And it is my only dream
That if I can make it through today
That tomorrow will be my next meal.
©2005 Brian D. Lawrence
As a vegetarian, non-smoker, fit and not overweight, I feel good about my health. Other than some back and elbow ailments from playing competetive paddleball, no complaints. I was never in the hospital and never had anesthesia.
At age 50 my doctor handed me a prescription for a colonoscopy as he did for the next seven years after my annual physical. My mother and sister have been pushing me in recent years. I am not normally a procrastinator but fear of the unknown of “being under” was the culprit.
Several months ago my mom asked me if I can drive her to visit a cousin in a nursing home in our old neighborhood. She let me pick the day and time. I picked her up and we decided to have lunch first at a local diner. We approached the block and found a spot right in front of her former physician.
We walked in and the receptionist recognized her and alerted the doctor she was here. He spent 20 minutes talking to us despite an office full of patients. Then we walked down the block ready to cross the street to go to dine. On the corner was a hair stylist that we both went to many years ago. We were both hungry and decided to stop after eating.
I looked at the time and said let’s say hello now. So we walked in and he gave us a very warm greeting. His customer was just getting up from the barber chair and I recognized him as the father of a friend I grew up. He did not recognize me and reminded him who I was. I then asked about his son. He said his son was fine. I then remembered he had two other sons that were twins.
“How are the twins?”, I asked. He said looking very sadly, “one of my sons died earlier this year”. Without telling me how, he said to me, “Brian, if there is one thing that you need to do in your life right now if you haven’t already done it is get a colonscopy.” So I surmised his son died from colon cancer.
I left the salon and over lunch was still thinking about this encounter and how everything had to align for me to have met him at the time I did for me to receive this message. Deciding to visit on that day, getting the spot in front of the doctors office and spending so much time there and then deciding to go to the salon before eating.
“Mom, I am going for the test”, I told her. The next day I made an appointment for the proceedure 2 months in advance. As it turned out the prep was a bit uncomfortable, the proceedure was painless and my time in neverland was very peaceful.
When I sat down with the doctor, he told me I was the poster child of why one should go for a colonscopy. I had four polyps removed, all benign, but one was larger than the rest. He said to come back in two years.
Two days later, I got a call on my cell phone and recognized the telephone number as the doctor’s office. I figured it was their office doing routine follow-up. Wrong… it was the doctor.
With a lump in my throat, I asked what was wrong. He told me I am fine but he had to talk to me about something. The larger polyp came back pre-cancerous and if I waited much longer to get the colonscopy it would have likely turned into a serious problem and I am a very lucky man.
So I look towards the heavens in gratitude that the message I received in the Brooklyn hair salon was no coincidence and that I am being watched over. And may this be a message to any person who has yet to have the proceedure that is coming of age.
I was at a BJ’s wholesale club waiting in line and behind me was a young, pregnant woman with all perishable items on the conveyer belt. I saw her reach into her purse to get her membership card and by her body language realized she had forgotten her wallet. I waited around to see what happened. She tried to get assistance and see if they would take a credit card her husband gave her over the phone. Without much empathy the cashier told her that all credit cards had to be swiped.
Though noticeably upset, without causing a scene she walked off the line to leave the store. I hesitated for a moment wondering if this was some sort of con but called her back, told her I would pay for her groceries and she can mail me a check ($135).
I could not walk away from the opportunity to make a difference. She was so grateful and told me she was seconds from bursting into tears. We walked to my car and I gave her my business card to inform her where to send the check. I called her cell phone number to store a contact number for her and got her husband’s business web site, which she showed me on her cell phone. I had to take the risk to make a difference.
The majority of the people I told this to said I will never get back the money and had adjectives to describe me and my act that were not positive. I received the check within 3 days and a card with a sentiment I will cherish as a validation to my trust in people
Finally, I had gotten away on my own. I went down to my condo in sunny Florida. Relishing my impending solitude, I planned to play some ball and then then unleash my creativity into my work.
But another force intervened, and I found I could do neither. A cold, the most banal of all ailments, struck me with such unprecedented intensity, transforming my normally energetic, overactive self into a full-fledged couch denizen. Cursing my bad luck and my lost weekend, I just lay there and did nothing but watch one channel, Turner Classic Movies.
As it turned out, that cursed other force had more in store for me than just respiratory distress. TCM was airing “The Lost Weekend”, the 1945 Academy Award Winner. It starred Ray Milland as a charming but pathetic writer and the worst alcoholic ever depicted on screen. The movie focuses on one weekend when he is supposed to be focused on writing a book, but is in the midst of an ongoing drinking bender. He has delusions of clarity about his book while drinking, but comes up blank when sitting in front of his typewriter. The people who love and support him are helpless to prevent his collapse.
As I watched this man’s total unraveling, my perspective on my so-called “lost weekend” radically changed. I had gained far more than I lost. I had a chance to understand the gift of health I take for granted every day. I also saw some of the greatest movies, all Academy Award Winners with actors like Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, James Cagney, and Audrey Hepburn who expressed the evils and temptations of the world without shedding an inch of flesh or uttering a profane word.
When I woke up the next morning feeling much better, I realized that my mind had a better vacation that if my body stayed healthy. Sometimes we just have to take vacations on our own terms and give ourselves that gift to rejuvenate the mind. It can really pay dividends.