Category Archives: Stress and Anxiety

Post Sandy: A Home Under Ashes

I should be posting something about the election, putting together my concluding Race 2012 blog post.  I should be reading other people’s posts on the election, clicking on some of those tantalizing titles.  I’m not though.  I can’t write about the election—delighted as I am with the outcome—or about race or body image or identity.   Instead, I’m trying to wrap my mind around this one central fact that’s changed my life, my husband’s and my children’s irrevocably.

A fire destroyed our house.

While we were staying upstate with friends last week, seeking refuge from New Jersey’s widespread Post-Sandy power outage, while we were enjoying the heat, electricity and laundry of our friend’s country home, our own was quietly being consumed by flames.

Our house as it was, photo taken in the Spring of ’06

We’d joked the night before about how lucky we were to be have lost power, forcing us into a splendid weekend getaway at a house in the country by a babbling brook, on acres of gleaming fall foliage.  We’d brunched on French toast, omelets, and espresso, then embarked on an exploration of the town proper, with all its quaint little shops.  I ventured into a consignment store, ogling a pair of wine-colored alligator pumps while my husband took the kids to the book store.  The shoes turned out to be size six—way too small—so I went to rejoin my family.

The kids were reading.  Jon pulled me aside:

“I have to talk to you.”  He’d just gotten off the phone with one of our neighbors who had called about our house.  By this time, it was eleven a.m. Saturday, November 3, 2012.  Smoke was billowing from every orifice of my beloved, raised split-level house, four fire trucks out front.  Our cul de sac, which normally rings with children’s shouts and laughter, was packed with onlookers from the block, all of whom had been ordered to vacate their houses—just in case there was an underground cause that might put the neighboring homes at risk.

Still in our friend’s rural outpost, Jon and I told the children—we had to.  Zoe reacted with loud cries of why?  and no!  and copious tears.  Theo asked a few pointed questions and then asked to use the Kindle for a game.   He had what he liked best, he later explained: his dad, his mom, his sister and best buddies, his favorite stuffed cat, his tennis racket.

Jon drove home to investigate, leaving me and the kids in the country where we’d be safe and warm, where we’d be free to hold onto our images of the house as it once was: whole, comfortable, and well-inhabited by us.  Full—too full—of our stuff.   The unknown: how bad was it?  What—if anything?—was left?—was better certainly than what Jon would face when he arrived.

Back in Montclair, Jon spoke to the fire inspector, who called the cause of the blaze undetermined.  Before we left, we’d blown out all the candles, checked the house twice for stray ones.  We’d had nothing in the fire place for several days.   Besides, it appeared that the blaze had begun in the basement, where nothing had been lit at all.   Then Jon stood with the neighbors and friends and family who had come to meet him, all watching the smoke, still settling, the glass falling all around.

By the time Jon got back upstate, the kids were asleep.  We sat at the table and Jon described what he’d seen: a surreal image of our life.  While the outside of the house looked the same (except for the broken windows), the inside was scorched black throughout.  The dining room had collapsed into the basement.  The kitchen—whose cabinets had been adorned with my children’s artwork—was a charcoal sculpture garden; the living room, much the same.  He could only guess at which belongings might be salvageable.

Questions cropped up as Jon and I talked: where would we stay when we went back?  (We had to go back; I was determined that the kids should start school as soon as it reopened to maintain some form of normalcy.) Where would we live while our house was being repaired?  How long did we think that would take?  The answers to these questions would come in time, as would a quiet resolve on both of our parts to get through this together and keep our kids from feeling the disruption too harshly.

It’s a full week later—that’s how long it’s taken me to post about this.   (Also how long I’ve been totally absent from the blogosphere.)

Here’s our status:  Coping well under the circumstances.  Our house may take over a year to be rebuilt.   Thanks to some good advice, our contractor is an expert in fire damage.  That is of utmost importance, we learned.  If our house were simply repaired and rebuilt, it would forever smell of smoke and mildew from the water that put out the blaze.

Friends are contacting everyone they know to help us find a home to lease in the area while renovations are underway.   In the mean time, we are staying in the home of wonderful, loving friends in our town, who have generously converted the third floor of their house into a suite for our family.  To give you an idea of how this family feels about guests, when we arrived here there were already four other families—whose homes had no heat or electricity—staying with them.  The three year old of the house inaugurates newcomers by having each guest read him a bedtime book.  His favorite is my daughter.  The other children in the home, a boy near my daughter’s age and a girl near my son’s age, are so eager to share their space and things, it is beyond heartwarming to hear the four of them chatting, playing and laughing together.  As for their parents, their mother especially, words cannot describe how much they’ve done for us.    While we’re working out details with the insurance company and contractors, while we’re also looking for a rental house, we have a base where we feel very much at home and are beginning to find a routine.  We are so grateful.

On Wednesday, my kids went off to school carrying new backpacks, filled with school supplies gathered by the school principal and PTA .  Everyone in the town is reaching out, asking how they can help, gathering clothes and shoes for my family.  And I know, many of them are still without heat or power in their homes!  All their kindness has cushioned the blow of this loss.   It’s as if the whole town of Montclair has us enveloped in a big, warm hug.   (THANK YOU ALL!) We are so fortunate to live in this amazing community.

Granted, my heart breaks a little each time I allow myself to imagine the fire itself, especially our three sweet gerbils, Koko, Remy and funny Gemini, the mad sleeve-climber,  who died peacefully in their sleep from carbon monoxide inhalation.  We will remember those rascals fondly.  But our things were just things and not what makes a home a home.   The best news is that Jon and the kids and I are all fine, safe and together.   We are very fortunate.

There are many harder hit than my family—so many homes, property, lives lost in the aftermath of this terrible storm.  Some people have lost their whole communities, living in shelters, no idea of where or when it will end.   The damage, as well the need for aid, is extensive not only in the American Northeast but also in Haiti and other Caribbean countries, where Sandy hit earlier.  Here is a list of organizations offering aid to victims of this disaster.

http://www.pih.org/

http://www.robinhood.org/news/robin-hood-hurricane-sandy-relief-fund-passes-11-million-contributions

http://www1.networkforgood.org/hurricanesandy

http://www.redcross.org/

http://www.directrelief.org/emergency/hurricane-sandy-relief-and-recovery/

For all who are suffering, I wish the kind of support we have.

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Guest Blog: Get Your Priorities Straight!

Today I’m thrilled to host my very first Guest Blogger:  Jodi Lobozzo Aman, L.C.S.W. – R., psychotherapist and healer with over twenty years of experience working with children, families and individuals.  Jodi and I “e-met” on SheWrites about ten months ago, at which point I began following her blog: Heal Now and Forever be in Peace.  Jodi also writes a weekly column for Healthyplace.com called Anxiety Schmanxiety , and is author of the e-book What’s Up In Your Down:Being Grateful In Seven Easy Steps.

 This is Jodi.

Jodi always seems to find the right words for taming anxiety, promoting self-patience and helping us look at life’s challenges in a new, healthy, manageable light.  Here she shares her wisdom on a topic I’m always grappling with: prioritizing.

 Get Your Priorities Straight!

 “Prioritize” is not a dirty word.  

 Even though it often makes you cringe to hear it. (It sounds so proper and oppressive.)

Being a mom, wife, business owner, author, runner, PR agent, blogger, homeowner, gardener, therapist, friend, facilitator, and yogi, takes up lots of “now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like so many others of my generation, I have chosen a busy life. And, while I wouldn’t trade it for the world, we also need to do some major time finagling to keep all the balls in the air. (And, stay conscious with them.)

I have two tricks up my proverbial sleeve:

  1. Eliminate time wasters
  2. Feel empowered by choice

1. Eliminate time wasters

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with too much to do, paralyzed because you don’t know where to start, and then guilty because you feel you haven’t accomplished what you’d hoped for after stressing about it all day?

Been there.

Now, I 86 the worrying. Worrying is like doing the tasks over and over. I’ve done the task a million times in my head before I actually got to work, wringing my hands about how awfully tedious it would be, and whining to myself how badly I wished for magic elves to come and do it for me. By the end of all this bellyaching, I would be too tired, and have run out of time, to get the enterprise accomplished. Then, I’d berate myself for being a total failure. (I am sure this has never happened to any of you.)

Worry is like a ball and chain when you are running a race. It exponentially slows you down. It’s true, time is relative.

We still think of time in its linear sense. Linear time is not only limited (there never seems to be enough of it), but it is also limiting (of other possibilities). We feel like it rushes on and on without our consent. Believing we have no effect on time harbors our attempts to shift it in our favor. “I have no time!” becomes our most abject excuse to avoid change.

Webster’s Dictionary has ten definitions of time, but my favorite is: “The duration of one’s life; the hours and days which a person has at his [or her] disposal.” I appreciate this description since it makes the distinction that we are an agent in life, rather than just a passive recipient of it. It means that we can bend time to our will, instead of being a helpless victim to its constant ticking away.

2. Feel Empowered by choice

Stop saying, “There is not enough time!” I used to lament that there wasn’t enough time, and inevitably my plans were thwarted and tasks became more time-consuming. Now I say,

There is more than enough time for everything you want to do.

I’ll say it again in case you didn’t hear me.

There is more than enough time for everything you want to do.

Really? This is impossible. We have finite physical capabilities, our body cannot go on forever like the energizer bunny. There are only 24 hours in a day, and we physically depend on rest to keep going. How can we do everything?

Time can be bent around space and matter. (Remember Einstein?) Even though many of the things we do on a daily basis, (i.e., feed the kids, brush our hair) feel necessary, they are, in fact, choices. When we reject the alternative as intolerable, the option we chose seems like it is not a choice. But it was. We are essentially prioritizing.

If we already have the skills to prioritize, what would happen if we prioritized consciously?

If we prioritize fluidly and consciously, (without the time-hogs of judgment and worry), we can accomplish everything we want with time left over for joy. Without judgment and worry the tasks are joyful.

 Conscious Prioritizing

 This is what I aim for, and sometimes reach on my best days. Do as I say, not as I do…

  •  Make lists. The easiest thing to bring awareness into our tasks is      to see them in print. Bonuses: a) forgetting-worry disappears b)      cross-it-out-joy abounds c) our funny partners can add outrageous items to keep us real.
  • Get started early. A day begun lazily, is hard to turn around. Start to do’s in the morning. If you plan to sit quietly with coffee, relax, or chit chat with family-this is not lazy-do it consciously and enjoy every minute of it.
  • Do harder things first. This lifts the weight off of these pesky tasks, and gives you a boost of confidence to the next thing. Intertwine them with some quick, easy tasks so that you can feel accomplished. Being productive breeds productivity, since it feels so good to be done with something, it gives us energy for the next thing. You may have to cut back on TV or  Words With Friends. (Me, included).
  • Set boundaries. And be flexible within them. My priorities are aways  changing from moment to moment. Choosing one endeavor means saying no everything else.  Saying no is rad.
  • Do tasks in increments. Just start. Do one little thing, anything and it will give you a boost for the next thing. I am serious, being a little bit productive is like drinking a energy drink. Don’t just believe me, try it.   (All the cool kids are doing it.) I try to begin tasks without too much thought. (Oh, I think a little. The whole “Measure twice, cut once” thing is prudent.) What I avoid is talk-my-self-out-of-it thinking, which takes tons of time and energy. Also, I get all my supplies together ahead of time–while I am already out and about–so when I am ready for the project, I can simply dive in. When you slip in a little work here and there, before you know it the job is done.
  • Let go of perfection. Expectations of perfection sucks more time out of the day than anything else. It bears repeating: Let go of perfection! If you can do something 95% perfect in one hour, and 100% perfect in 6 hours, spend the 5 hours doing something fun instead.
  • Delegate. Work is so much better and faster when you have help.  Stop wondering if you are worth asking other for help. People love to feel useful. They would love to help you. Trust them, it saves you loads of time!

Jodi Lobozzo Aman, LCSW-R

Please note that Jodi sees clients over skype and in her Rochester, NY office for counseling, consulting, shamanic healing, and spiritual direction. (To make an appointment with Jodi, click here.)

So at Dinner With the President Last Night …

No, that title wasn’t just to get your attention.  Well, okay, it sort of was.  But the truth is that I did have dinner with the President last night.  With Barack Obama–that President.*  And Mitt and Anne Romney were there too.  And Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, and Ed Koch, David Dinkins, Henry Kissinger, Katie Curic and a gazillion other luminaries.

It’s true: Last night my husband Jon and I attended the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner in the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City last night, a fundraising event which supports a slew of Catholic charities all over the region.  We were guests of the board chair of Jon’s new charter school organization, who had purchased two prime tables for his family, friends and associates.  (I promise you, I would not make it to such an event otherwise.  I cannot even begin to guess how much it cost per plate.)

All attendees were instructed to arrive at the Waldorf at 5:30 to be processed by security (which turned out to be far less invasive than a TSA check).  Since we hadn’t paid to be in the receiving line, we moved fairly quickly and were enjoying cocktails by six.  The cocktail period was an interesting cultural experience for both Jon and me.  We’re both schmoozers; we like a crowd; we like to small talk (and big talk and any kind of talk), accustomed to running into people we know everywhere.  In my case, even on those occasions where I attend a gathering and know no one, I can usually find a way to strike up a conversation with a stranger and pretty quickly find common ground.  I think that’s an only-child survival thing.   You grow up craving company; you make anyone nearby into instant company.   As an adult it’s the same.  If you’re at a playground with your kids, you ask another mother how old her kid is and boom: you’ve got someone to talk to.  At a party, compliment another woman’s boots or earrings, (like ’em or not); she’ll compliment yours back  (like ’em or not) and again: conversation buddy.   This works better with women than men, of course.  I think it’s the female version of, “So how about those Celtics?”

At this event, however, where I’m sure my dress was the only dress  that cost anything south of $1,000, I couldn’t use my usual tactic.  When Jon slipped off to the men’s room, leaving me momentarily solo, I stood under a chandelier the size of Rhode Island, daintily sipped my champagne, and gazed at the magnificent display of fashion.  It was too much fun for me to feel lonely or self-conscious.  Of course, I couldn’t possibly approach anyone out of the blue to say I admired her earrings or shoes.  Not here, where I might be taken for an upscale panhandler.

I’m lucky, though: as a former corps member of old-style ballet companies, I’ve played a court lady more times than I care to count.  I therefore know how to stand and walk in a gown.  Which led to my first bit of stranger chit-chat.  A woman my age in a full, floor-length red skirt was struggling with the stairs, nearly pulling herself under the tide of her dress.  I was standing by (waiting for Jon to return from checking my coat).

“Help me!” She said righting herself with the aid of the banister.  Her accent was slightly, sweetly Southern.  “How are you supposed to walk upstairs in these things?”

It was a rhetorical question.  Still I had an answer.   When I’d done Romeo and Juliet with the Pennsylvania Ballet, the dresses for the women in the Capulet’s ball scene were way too long.   They’d come on loan from New York City Ballet–where the average corps de ballet woman was three inches taller than Pennsylvania’s.  But our costumer was informed she must not hem the dresses, possibly because we were lesser ballet company.  In any case, the costumes had heavy, satin-and-velvet skirts with long, drape-y sleeves.  Though we were swimming in them, I have to admit they were a blast to have on.  Add to that a Nephertiti-height headpiece and the effect was quite dramatic.

But we were supposed to walk up onto a platform, heads thrown back and turned toward the audience so we couldn’t look where we were going.   This unfortunate combination  of choreography and wardrobe resulted in an eight-girl pile-up during dress rehearsal as, one by one, each of us tripped on the extra material and went down like dominos.    The solution was to hold the front of your dress out in front of you, literally grab two big folds of skirt and hoist them as you walked up the stairs, arms outstretched and parallel to the floor.  Otherwise down you’d go, like my friend at the Waldorf last night.

“Take hold,” I told her, demonstrating with my own skirt.  “like this.”

She asked me how I’d figured this out.  I explained.  Boom: conversation buddy.

By the end of cocktail hour, I’d lost her, found Jon and contentedly gabbed with my husband about how strange it was not to know anyone else.  We’ve been to fundraisers before, but generally the crowd is more diverse–ethnically and religiously–as well as being more politically liberal.  Here people were largely Catholic, overwhelmingly white, of Irish descent, mostly with deep pockets, mostly conservative.

My husband and I are used to being two of a dozen Rosenbergs at a given time, sandwiched between the Perlemans and Silvermans.  Here we seemed to be the only Jews in the place.  (We weren’t.)  And between the biracial president and myself, there was just one black person.  Kidding.  Though, not counting secret service, I noticed no more than seven people of color, myself and Obama included.  (The first Lady was sadly not in attendance.  And I’d had such high hopes of running into her in the ladies’ room and chatting!)

I wasn’t concerned about being in the minority racially, religiously or class-wise.  My only misgivings were from what I’d read that morning in the New York Times about conservatives who’d boycotted the whole event just because Obama was coming.   This did not have to do with the president’s race, however.  Their issues instead were Obama’s views on gay marriage and abortion, which contrast with those of the Catholic Church.  Still, plenty were in attendance, including nuns, priests and other religious Catholics with the vision and compassion to bridge differences for a night to raise money for good works.

The food and wine were fantastic, the mise en scene impeccable; it was hard not to be in a good mood.  At my table (Table Six, right up close to the dais with an unobstructed view of the president and his rival), besides my husband and a few of his colleagues, were a cluster of bright-eyed young people, from West Point, Yale and private schools in the New York area: the daughters, niece and nephews of our host.  Though they’d all grown up privileged, they were politically liberal, interested either in community organization or education reform.  All were staunch Obama supporters (as were about half the guests there).  The man next to me, a cousin of the host, had joined the peace corps after college, adopted an orphaned child in Africa (I forget from which country) and raised him in the States.  Everyone’s story was interesting, individual and impossible to guess from appearances alone.

The view from Table 6. If my Blackberry hadn’t somehow lost its zooming powers, you’d be able to tell that the guy in the center is President Obama. Really, it is.

What was most striking about the evening was the way people of different political persuasions came seamlessly together, especially the two duelling presidential candidates.  Where they’d exchanged harsh words in Tuesday’s debate, last night Obama and Romney traded humorous barbs, laughing at themselves, at one another and at both their absent running mates.

What was amazing wasn’t just that they were both funny, but that they were so gracious with one another, with the Archbishop and with everyone up there on the dais with them.  I kept thinking how hard it must be for both men, for whom each handshake, each hug, each exchange of niceties matters.  If they hold on to a hand too long, or release it too soon, if they skip a hand, or fail to mention God, there are consequences.  Even looking as relaxed and natural as both Obama and Romney did last night, there must be so much stress. Still, for a night there was a beautiful standstill, a reprieve from the rancor of this tense and trying campaign season.  I was honored and a tiny bit in awe just to be there.

*This isn’t an official Race 2012 post, though I’ve categoized it that way because it mentions both race and the election.

**Last night the Alfred E. Smith Foundation raised a total of $5,000,000 dollars for twelve different charities.