Getting Noticed

trophyIt’s awards season at school and not every child is receiving an award.  This is great news for families with high achievers but not so great for the remainder.  Or is it?

Sure, it’s fun to be on top, to be part of that crowd, to be selected.  We want to be recognized and appreciated, deserving or not.  When we’re overlooked, it can be deflating, as if our ‘doing’ wasn’t enough.  The problem is that the not doing enough feels more like not being enough, which is a slippery slope to travel.

Winning can be treacherous.  It’s addictive, like caffeine.  If we become praise-dependent, we are in danger when the winning ends, (as it eventually will) because the high goes with it and takes a chunk of self-image along for the ride.  We recover,yes, but do we ever stop seeking the reward?  If you love coffee, do you ever stop being wistful when you smell that aroma?

We humans enjoy praise and approval.  Sometimes, a simple pat on the back is all we need to stay motivated.  How many times have you heard a person complain about being unappreciated by a boss or a spouse?  A little recognition goes a long way.  The problem is, there’s no guarantee in life that you’ll be given due accolades.  The truth is, it’s no one’s job to approve of us – except us.

When Principessa lamented that she had been passed over for an award which she felt she had earned, her perception was one of bewilderment and frustration.  “What do I have to do to get noticed?”  Therein lies the problem.  When the self-satisfaction in a job well-done is dependent on recognition, we suffer.

“Go ahead,” I advised.  “If you want a ‘doing’ award, then DO.”  Do the parlor tricks where you hit a ball 90 mph or block the most goals, or get the highest test grades.  Practice as hard as you can.  Stay up late studying.  Worry yourself silly.  Pile your efforts on top of your talent and go for it.  Teachers and coaches will notice you with a certificate and a handshake.  You may even get a scholarship, which will make your parents extra happy.  But none of these things guarantees your success.  You may have more choices for college; colleges like people who achieve on paper and in the field.  It’s a bonus if you end up being a good kid too.  But these admirers can’t promise you happiness, or even a good career.

There will be no awards for most mature teen.  If there were, you would win.  There is no prize money for most honest and loyal.  You’d win those, too.  Heck, I could list a hundred things you do ‘better’ than your peers.  But the point is not to feel better than.  Your job, my dear teen, is to figure yourself out – how you want to contribute to the world and who you want to be. If you never win an award in the process, smile and say thank you for the not noticing.  While all eyes are looking in the other direction, you are working on humbleness and self-motivation. Without the complication of external feedback, you are free to explore yourself and develop your own unique purpose that is not dependent on another’s opinion.

You don’t need people telling you you’re doing a good job at life.  There is no such thing.  There is no good life or bad life.  There is only life, full of limitless potential.  What you do with that potential is your choice.  What others think of your choices -the way they do or don’t take notice – is their business.

Principessa, I admire you.  I don’t tell you all the time because I don’t want you to rely on my admiration.  My words are of better use in helping you find what will sustain you for the long haul.  My job is to nurture your passions and  help you discover the greatness  in yourself, for yourself.  Because when all the award ceremonies are over, you still have to live with you, even when no one is watching.

Love Class

Warning:  Rated “S” for Spiritual.  Content may be inappropriate for atheists and agnostics.

crossAs I re-read my ‘Intention to Love’ declaration I noticed a tone of enthusiasm and self-assuredness.  Forty days ago I jumped headlong into Lent with a commitment to love – everyone.  What was I thinking?

It didn’t take long for me to be bowled over by the hard-to-love tidal wave.  Which I could have predicted and prepared for if not for a premature self-satisfaction with my success in loving criminals and sassy teens.

Caroline Myss advises watching what you wish for.  If one asks for patience, one will be presented with three people or situations that try your patience to its limit.  How else would you learn?  Did you expect that patience would fall into your lap just because you asked for it?  Did you think you’d be asked to forgive Santa Claus?

Truthfully, yes.  I had hoped that setting a conscious intention to love would ease the process.  Apparently, it had the opposite effect.  If this is Life School, I signed up for the A.P. class in Love.  And it was more than I bargained for.

One of my first assignments was to find love for a family member who conducted herself in an irresponsible manner.  It was an old story, a skipping record that keeps repeating, making it increasingly difficult to tolerate.

I tackled my assignment with prayer – the old standby.  I prayed for this person to be relieved of her evil ways.  I prayed hard for tolerance.  Nothing changed.  My prayers were like rubber balls bouncing off a wall.

I sat with my  frustration for a while before raising a hand to ask for help.  ‘What am I missing?’  An image of a mirror came to me.  Cautiously, I turned the mirror on myself – on my spiritual arrogance to be exact.  Who was I to think this person needed help?  Maybe she was fine and I was the one with the problem.

I could sense teacher nodding approval.  I was onto something.  My prayers changed to pleas of protection for this family member from me, from my harsh criticism, and for all the ways she has to put up with me. Instantly, the ugliness of her behavior melted away.  Love flowed in as effortlessly and forcefully as water past a newly released dam.  The lesson was clear:  trying or wanting to change others is not loving.  Relationship 101.  I should have remembered that.

With my semester project behind me, I still had to face final exams – Holy Week.  The testing was as intense and stressful as I remember from my college days.  My trying-to-be-more-loving self, now humbled, met with an endless stream of themed challenges:  Loving the Self.

When one has minored in Too Much all her life, and received High Honors in it, she is loathe to dump that ‘accomplishment.’  But if one wants to also claim proficiency in Love, Too Much must go.

Self-critics came out of the woodwork like an infestation of pests that had met with a fumigating spray.  Each had a label – too weak, too loud, too intense, too shy, too bold, too scared, too broken.  ‘Too’ was like a gong clanging in the background of my mind, and often in the foreground.  The world, including my dear family, was more than willing to help me see my too-muchness.

My final exam felt less like a test and more like an unguided trek across dangerous terrain in extreme weather.  And all I brought was a flashlight.  Fortunately, I spotted some encouragement along the way.  There was this from Tama: You do not have to be perfect to lead.  Someone needs what you have learned from your struggle.  And this one from Glennon:  Maybe I am who I am for a purpose.  Maybe I’ve been wasting my energy trying to be different.

As I contemplated the many gurus I admire, it occurred to me that they had their own ‘too-muchness.’  Mother Theresa was described as impatient.  Look what her impatience did for the world!  Gandhi was intolerant (of poverty and oppression) which may have stemmed from his intolerant character.  And Einstein was rebellious.  Need I say more?

We are flawed characters, us humans.  But so lovable.  So deserving.  So valuable.

I rose on Easter Sunday wondering if I passed my Love class.  Did Jesus wonder that when he ascended to Heaven?  Was he worried that maybe he could have done better, saved more people?

I may find myself enrolled in Love Class again next semester and the one after that.  I’ll take it as many times as I have to in order to excel.  And I’ll continue to teach it too.  Because we teach best what we most need to learn.

How To Be A Parent

babyA young mother-to-be said with despair, “Only three weeks left to figure out how to be a mother!”

Oh, sweet new momma, I am still trying to figure that out fifteen years later.  I don’t mean to scare you, but this is the truth.

You will find your groove, yes, and figure out the basics like which type of diapers you prefer and where to find the sales on baby food.  But even if you become a mother twenty times over, uncertainty will remain.  Because just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the rules change, or the kids change, or you change.

You will make more mistakes than you’re willing to count.  Like, for instance, letting your six year old eat the party favor that you swear is white chocolate but is actually decorative soap.  (Yes, I did that.)

You will realize after several hundred of these foibles that a sense of humor is an essential item to pack in the diaper bag.  And it is precisely these times that earn you a notch in your parenting stick.  These falls from grace won’t guarantee that your next act will be seamless, but they will remind you that you can do the hard job of parenting AND live to tell about it.

If you are a ‘good’ parent you will never enjoy the smugness of certainty.  You will doubt every major and some minor decisions, feel guilty about others, and learn something new every day.  Early on you may learn that you shouldn’t play airplane with a baby who has just eaten lest he spit up in your mouth.  (That was husband, not me.)  Later, you may learn that you are not above ditching your child in a grocery store when she shouts, “Why is that lady so fat?”  And you will be anointed with humility when your little one declares aloud in church, “Mommy, you tooted!”

I wish my gift to you could be a key to the Parenting Answer Box.  But in my heart I know that if there was such a key to be given, it would ruin the whole experience.  If you had all the answers and didn’t crumble in despair once in a while, you’d never know the sweetness of vulnerability.  Just when you think you can’t go on, your little one reaches up to wipe a tear from your eye and says, “I wuv you, Mommy.  Pwease don’t cry.”  Renewed afresh, your heart fills up and you rise from the ashes.

When we stop banging on the door of certainty, demanding reprieve from the worry and fear of parenting, we realize that we are not alone.  Looking around, we find ourselves amidst the stories of millions of parents before us who stood exactly where we now stand, unable to break through the barrier of doubt.

There is no pot of gold at the end of the child-rearing rainbow.  And the treasure is not what you think it is.  It is not an honors student who never got arrested, never sassed his parents, and never skipped out on chores.  Nor is it a perfect parenting record that is envied by your fellow retirees.  The gift is simply this:  THE EXPERIENCE – good, bad, or otherwise.

Some day you will look back and wonder how you survived.  You will also continue to question your choices long after the children are grown.  But with any luck, you will have learned at least, to abandon blame and shame in favor of forgiveness and gratitude.  You dared to take on the title of parent in the name of love, despite your humongous fears, and did the best you could.

Don’t Give Up On Me Now

I get upset, maybe irrationally so, when things break – which they do at an alarming pace in our house.  It’s difficult to pinpoint which machine failure causes the most angst for me.  I was equally annoyed when the toilet handle broke as when the refrigerator committed premature suicide.  So I wouldn’t claim that the impending death of my car was more dramatic than any other loss, until it threatened to take me, and my daughter, with it.

At eighteen years old, failed breaks in my beloved first car were a great story.  With no proverbial ‘life’ to flash before my eyes, it was just a bit of excitement in the day.   Not so at 43.

I knew something was amiss; three different warning lights on the dashboard told me as much.  What they failed to indicate is when the car would fail and how badly.

In typical triage-style parenting, husband and I deemed a trip to the mechanic a low priority, pushing it out a week while secretly hoping the warning lights would disappear.  You know, the old ‘if I ignore it, it will go away’ trick.  But our over-used SUV wasn’t willing to accommodate our busy schedule and decided to self-destruct mid-week while I – not my risk-taking/thrill-seeking husband – was driving our nine year old to dance class.

Shortly after calling husband to report increasingly squishy brakes and the possibility of visiting the mechanic sooner rather than later, I went careening through a stop sign, avoiding a crash by sheer luck.  Not wanting to panic Peach, I restrained my reaction, opting instead to unleash my fury on husband when I arrived home.  Thankfully, he is a seasoned husband who wasn’t hurt by my insinuation that this was somehow his fault.  (He’s a big fan of the rhetorical question: If a tree falls in the woods and the husband is nowhere near it, is it still his fault?)   Of course it is!

I awoke the next morning with virtual whiplash from my virtual accident.  Ah, the power of stress.  In retrospect, I should have had the car towed to the shop.  But I opted to drive it, sans passengers, tempting fate once more and nearly killing myself and the car in the process.  (I’m pretty sure the mechanic would wag a finger at me for driving my automatic transmission like a stick shift in lieu of brakes to slow down.)

Regular readers may notice a trend.   I prefer barreling through life at full speed, trying to squeeze 30 hours into every 24-hour day, foregoing common sense and self-care.  (You might recall me ignoring a warning last year that my online calendar was going to explode from all the conflicts.)  I recognize this self-destructive pattern, and yet I persist.

I envision a guardian angel assigned to me at birth, rolling its eyes and grumbling about a future of futile attempts at keeping me safe from myself.  In my dream, he is chasing after me, barely able to keep up until, at last, I pause just shy of running into traffic like an oblivious toddler.  The sight of my breathless angel fuels the game of cat and mouse and I take off once again, confident he will follow.

Last night my dream took on a more serious note in one of those vivid, sweat-inducing dreams that stays with you long after waking.  I was driving distractedly when the road spontaneously disappeared.  My car launched into the air and landed in a river.  After escaping the car, I had an emotionless thought that the car could be replaced, but I was hysterical about the loss of my smart phone – my second brain that contains all my contacts and appointments.

I woke with the feeling that perhaps it’s time to turn over a new leaf.  No more ignoring of warning signals that are trying to protect me.  No more getting irritated at policemen that pull me over for speeding.  I will ‘hear God on the whisper’ so He doesn’t have to yell.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll slow my life down enough so my guardian angel can catch a break.

A Sensitive Boy

Part I:  A Vicious Cycle

Once upon a time there was a sensitive boy.  He cried at the drop of a hat.  This annoyed the boy’s father who tried to toughen him up.  “Don’t be a sissy!” Dad said, which made the boy want to cry even more.  But he knew it wasn’t safe.  Instead, the boy choked back his feelings and hid them deep down in his belly where only he could feel the crying.

The crying worried mother, too.  “You’re too sensitive.” She said.  “You’ll get bullied.”  The boy believed her.  With practice, the boy became better at hiding his feelings.  But he didn’t stop feeling them.  Mother noticed that sometimes the boy’s face would turn red.  His lip would curl and tremble and his body would tense.  But he never cried again.

Over time, the boy would learn all sorts of tricks to hide his feelings.  He hid them so well, that even he couldn’t find them after a while.  One day, when the boy became a man, his wife would complain that he was devoid of emotion and unable to truly connect.  This confused the boy.

When the boy had a son of his own, he began to feel something stirring inside himself – something peculiar but familiar.  One day, the son got his feelings hurt and began to cry.  The boy, now a dad, wanted to cry too.  It hurt him to see his son hurting.  He remembered feeling that way when he was young.  But crying was wrong – dangerous even.  So the dad did what he thought was right and told the son to stop crying.  And the son did.


Part II – “My Son Is Too Sensitive”  – Is It True?

There is a story we tell ourselves about who we are and how it is.  We are too this.  Too that. Not enough of anything.  Every story is a variation of this shouldn’t be happening. Who would we be without that story?

Welcome to ‘The Work’ a la Byron Katie.  A process of inquiry.

I worry about my son because he’s too sensitive.  I want him to stop crying when his feelings are hurt.  And especially in public.  If he was tougher I wouldn’t worry about him being bullied.  I don’t want to see him hurting.  I don’t want him to get hurt because of the crying.

Belief:  My son will get hurt if he cries

  1. Is it true?   Yes
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true, that your son will get hurt if he cries?  No
  3.  How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? I get scared and angry and worried.  I try to toughen him up.  I try to help him not to feel.  I feel like it’s my job to change him.
  4.  Who would you be without the thought ‘my son will get hurt if he cries.’  I’d relax about him.  I’d comfort him instead of yell at him to stop crying when he’s hurting.  I’d be a parent who loves her sensitive son because I do love him so much.  I’d see how caring he is.  How he can sense what other people are feeling – which is a gift. I’d be able to love him and not worry about how sensitive he is. I’d support him.

Turn the thought around (to statements that are as true or truer): ‘My son will get hurt if he cries’

  1.  To the self:  I get hurt when he cries.’  (True.  I suffer with worry when I think of what his crying means.)
  2. To the opposite:  ‘My son won’t get hurt if he cries.’  (Might be true.  I don’t know how people will react.  Maybe he’ll meet with sympathy and understanding.)
  3.  To the other:  ‘I hurt my son when he cries.’  (True!  I disrespect his feelings.  I dishonor him when I tell him he shouldn’t feel the way he feels. I do what I’m afraid others will do to him – I hurt him when he cries!)


I realize I have two sons in my mind – the son I have and the son I think I want him to be.  The real one and the one I imagine to be better and safer.  I try to change him because there’s fear inside that I don’t know what to do with.  When I question my thoughts and meet my fear, I see that in my desire to protect him, I am actually hurting him.  Where is the love in that?

I don’t have to change what I believe. But I can, and should, question it.   Because if I don’t challenge my thoughts, they plague me.  So I ask myself again, who would I be, who would he be, without these thoughts? Can I find one stress-free reason to keep my thoughts?  In the questioning, I begin to see that none of my thoughts are true.  On the other side of the questions is freedom – for both of us.

It turns out, the world is perfect.  It’s what I think about the world that needs work.



I know a man who needs a lot of attention.  His wife tells me he was deprived of emotional connection as a child.  Together, the wife and I play psychologist because the neediness drives her crazy.  We devise theories and solutions that are as useless as our self-appointed PhDs.  Although our ideas fail to ‘fix’ the man, we – like good doctors – never stop trying.

That is, until today, when I stumbled upon this quote:

Humans need attention like plants need light.

The logic stopped me dead.  I’m no gardening expert, but I (and every second grader) know that plants need light to survive.  Good ‘ole photosynthesis being a critical process and all.  I also know that some plants are shade lovers and others thrive in the sun.

Applying my new metaphor to people, it would follow that some people do fine with just a little attention and others crave it.  Thinking of it this way makes a little space for what we would otherwise call neediness.  After all, we don’t approach the sun-loving plants and lay blame: ‘How dare you soak up so much sun?!’  We don’t criticize these plants for wanting what makes them thrive any more than we criticize the ones who prefer the shade.  We just give them what they need if we want them to survive.

Perhaps, a wife could, instead of trying to change a husband into a shade-sustainable plant, just give him lots of light (i.e. attention).

I immediately shared my new revelation with friend who thought it was brilliant – our best one yet.  After enjoying a laugh at our own expense, we concluded that it was never husband who needed fixing, it was us!

Elementary my dear Watson.  Elementary.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.”    – Wayne Dyer

Thank You For This

With my 43rd birthday in sight, I feel like I’m approaching a finish line.  As I gaze at the month ahead of me, the home stretch, I realize that I am no more immune to death now than I was when I first experienced my premonitions of death at age 42.  I am acutely aware that if Heaven wants me, it can grab me off the race track of life whether I’m thirty years from the ‘finish line’ or thirty days.  There are no rules, no fair and square, where death is concerned.

Read more please……

Moving Mountains

The curtain rises on a gorgeous, warm, blue-sky summer day.  Mother Nature is playing her role with expertise and generosity.  And so am I.  This day, I play the role of victim.

The list of grievances is long –  going to work, a general lack of vitality, the chore list……There seems no end to the tiresome slights against my happiness.  Employing my fail-safe tool, gratitude, I expect to feel better any minute now.  But the negative thoughts hold me hostage.

When friend calls late in the day, I am all but depleted of energy from dragging my sorry butt through my sorry day.  Friend asks me for help.   A situation has arisen with her parents and I am ‘exactly the person who can help.’  I am honored to try, glad to be needed, and apparently effective in lending perspective.  Instantly, I feel lighter.  Helping others does that to people.

It’s said that you can’t give without receiving.  Intrigued and eager to play with this theory a little more, I set off on a mission.  Like Superman changing into his leotard (yes, it’s a leotard) I transform myself from Deb Dunham to Super Giver.  I hand out compliments, silent blessings, hugs, courtesies – anything I can to everyone I encounter.  It quickly becomes a fun game.

And the give/get theory turns out to be true!  In exchange for my gifts, I receive countless smiles, thank yous, and not surprisingly, a pervasive rise in energy.  I am smitten with the ability to change someone’s day for the better while simultaneously elevating my own.

It occurs to me how infrequently we utilize the tools at our disposal – like service, gratitude, positive thinking, faith, love….We are well equipped to change ourselves, and therefore, the world, for the better.  I’m convinced that a concentrated focus on any or all of these can move mountains.  Like the mountains of hatred and competitiveness and resentment for example.

Mother Teresa said, “We can’t do big things.  We can only do little things with big love.”  Ironically, she was a little person who accomplished big things by giving big love in little ways.  The best part is that we don’t have to set out to move mountains.  In fact, we don’t have to try to change anything.  We just have to give little bits over and over and eventually, a mountain will move.  And we will move with it.

Playing Small

A friend, sitting by the community pool with several other mothers, listens with increasing irritation to their animated conversation which resembles a verbal contest.  The main theme: busyness.  The object of the game: one-upsmanship.   Who can claim the prize for the Most Overworked Mother?

Each mother in succession pipes in her list of parenting woes expecting sympathy, horror, or dare I say, admiration from the others.  The group serves as a collective listener though one is not convinced that they actually hear each other.  Rather, each is distractedly plotting her own strategy.

One woman, wearing busyness like a badge, pulls ahead in the game.  She has multiple children in multiple sports and activities.  None, of course, are grateful for what mother does to enhance their lives.  The conversation takes on a dramatic volume and pitch as this mother concludes with sweeping gestures to enhance her case.

Who will be crowned the winner?  Which poor, selfless, overworked mother has ‘it’ the worst?  Like a typical round of Monopoly, there is no end to this game.  The only real winner is the one who chooses not to play.  This is the mother who knows that complaining and blaming equal playing small.  This mother knows that an over-scheduled child does not make the schedule.  Mother does.

The pattern of giving too many yes’ and no enough no’s is one I’m familiar with.  In the blink of an eye, the family calendar fills to capacity and begins to bust at the seams, leaving mother in a puddle of exhaustion at the end of a day.  And always, though I forget sometimes, I am in control.

The desire to give children the world can obscure a mother’s judgment.  It can trick her into attempting to juggle flaming torches and spin plates on sticks while walking a tightrope.  When she tries this stunt and fails – because she will – mother may fall to the ground and, without thinking, blame her child for pushing her off the rope.  Silly mother.

Instead of egging her on with ooh’s and aah’s like a crowd at the circus, mother’s friends could say these words:

Get down here before you hurt yourself!  Your children need you in one piece.  You don’t have anything to prove.  There is no prize for scaling tall buildings in a single bound.  Your prize is here on the ground.  It is waiting for you to stop running around long enough to pick it up and hug it and tell it how much you love it.

 The prize will understand, eventually, if the love words include a ‘no’ here and there.  It may even thank you some day for setting limits in order to preserve sanity and closeness and family time.  At the very least, you will have prevailed in the Game of Life because you chose not to compete.  Instead of playing small, you kept your eye on the prize, your feet on the ground, and your heart in a grateful place.

Joy, Where Are You?

Joy, where are you?  You were right here a minute ago.  I turned to talk to the Complaint Family and when I looked back, you were gone.  I know your hiding places.  We’ve played this game before.  I’ll find you eventually.

Ah, there you are.  Why are you hiding?  You look scared.  Yes, the Complaint Family is loud, I agree.  They brought so many relatives to visit this time – Stress and Depression and Frustration.  Oh and Jealousy – haven’t seen her in a while.

They always seem to visit when I’m tired.  How can I turn them away when they show up at my doorstep?  No, I don’t love when they visit either, but they’re old friends.     Well, that’s true, you’ve known me for longer.  Yes, Joy, you were my first and only friend for a long time.  But I had to grow up and meet others.

Now, don’t do that.  No fair bringing up the teenage years when I abandoned you, Joy.  I didn’t know better.  I excluded you and I’m sorry for that.  I know you were hurt when I chose Depression as my new best friend.  It hurt me, too, to be without you.  I’m so glad you didn’t give up on me.

I’m still not perfect you know.  I get caught up with Stress sometimes, and Responsibility – they’re hard to handle.  Yes, you could help me deal with them.  Your presence would quiet them.  I should try to remember that.

Look, I promise I will pay more attention to you.  Now, will you come out from that hiding spot?  Come and give me a hug.  I love you, Joy.  I need you. What’s that?  On one condition?  You want me to invite Gratitude to live with us?  Sure, why not?  I like Gratitude.  She’s a good friend to you.  I notice that when Gratitude stays with us you seem strong.  And when she’s here, the Complaint Family doesn’t come around.  I think that’s a splendid idea, Joy.  We’ll invite Gratitude to live with us.

. . . . .

And so it was.  Gratitude moved in.  Joy grew stronger.  And we all lived happily ever after.  Sure, we’ve had visitors occasionally.  But the Complaint Family stopped coming around as much.  And when they did, they weren’t invited to stay.


For more on my journey with gratitude go to

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