Tag Archives: Wisdom

The Mom Void

The Mom Void

It’s Mother’s Day and it seems appropriate that I would be channeling my mother in the kitchen this weekend.  Tabouli, Hummus, Baba Ghannouj- salt, allspice, cinnamon, garlic, tahini, eggplant, and parsley dripped and splashed everywhere!  You can’t make Lebanese food without making a mess, using your hands and taste testing along the way.  The sterile kitchen police would have me under arrest.

My daughter in law is craving Lebanese food for my little Lebanese grandson still nesting just under her heart.  A new little Shaheen boy in the works.  My mom would be beside herself!  Another man to cook for!

I found my place very early in life next to my mother in the kitchen.  I had no choice really.  I just grew up in there with my own apron and stepping stool, stirring the rice pudding, chopping the parsley and washing the dishes.  Sometimes all at the same time.

I never complained.  With a family of eight and so many brothers, it was the only way I could sneak something to eat before the food hit the dinner table. It was also my special time to be with my mom.  To smell her perfume and sing songs with her.  At a very young age, I wanted to be just like her.  She was so loved and admired by everyone.  And she was a fabulous cook.  I think she invented that idiom about the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach..

She always knew just what to do in every situation.  What to cook for every ailment.  How to take care of her family.  She could have written the book on mothering.

I watched her as a young mother wrap up my babies and sing to them.  When my youngest, Peter, was born, I found her playing in the sandbox with Patrick and Robert and their trucks.  “Whose mother is that??” I wondered!  My mother never got dirty.  My mother had her nails and hair done every week and wore heels and hose.  My mother didn’t own a pair of jeans until she turned 50!

As I recuperated from each pregnancy and birth, she cleaned my house and did the laundry and cooked delicious things for us in the kitchen.  I just held my babies and watched.  I wanted to get in there and chop and stir and wash dishes but clearly our roles had changed and I was no longer the little girl helping.  I was the mother. Still learning from her.  Still needing her advice and expertise.  Still wanting to be close to her in the kitchen.

Now on the cusp of being a new grandmother myself, I’m feeling a bit insecure in the transition.  What will my new role be like?  What are the expectations?  Will I know what to do with a new baby?  After all, it’s been 30 years since I had Peter.  Things have changed. Mothers are more enlightened due to the internet.  Information is dispelled easily through a quick Google.  Does anyone call their mother for advice anymore?

The new parenting trends bring natural fibers and toxic free toys.  Gender fluid nurseries and neutral color schemes.  Babies sleep face up instead of face down.  Bumpers are no longer safe in cribs.  There’s something called “sleep training”.

Maybe I will Google “gramma training”.

So I find myself in the kitchen where I feel safe and smug.  I know the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.  Or through his mommy’s stomach.

It’s a start.  The rest will come in time.

As I chop the parsley and squeeze the lemons.  Smash the garlic with the salt just how she taught me.  Mix the Tabouli with my unsterile hands- I haven’t killed anyone yet with my cooking- I feel her standing next to me and I smell her perfume.  I am infused with her wisdom and her strength and her confidence in me.

“You got this, Sissie!  You’re going to be a wonderful Sittie!”

Feeling the Mom void..

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A Plethora of Women

A Plethora of Women

This last weekend I had the opportunity to facilitate a Day of Reflection for AMEN- The Alumni Mothers Extended Network for Bellarmine College Prep, the high school where my three sons attended and thrived.  I was sort of a replacement gig.  Sister Rebecca Shinas, better known as “the rockin’ nun of MySpace”, had some urgent family business to attend to.  So, my friend, Rosemary, had the thought to ask me.

Well of course!  What are the degrees of separation between Sister Rebecca and me?  I do have a Facebook…

Wondering if I was equipped to replace a sister who has devoted her entire life to spirituality and celibacy,  I was hesitant to accept.

I remember when Rosemary called me to ask.  I was standing in my kitchen and as she set up the invitation my head was telling me NO and my heart and intuition were screaming YES!  YOU CAN DO THIS!  BE BRAVE!

After a month of pulling books off my bookshelf and pouring over underlined and highlighted paragraphs, searching through my journals for significant dreams, scanning TED talks for presentations on life after raising a family, and searching the web for 10 ways to find your passion, I had my script and I was armed and ready.. perhaps dangerous.

I met some incredible women and of course the better part of the day was spent with their personal sharing.  One thing I’ve learned from being  Catholic and having to listen to priests talk from the pulpit every week and not being able to raise my hand and add my two cents is that women want to talk!  They want to share, to ask, to unfold their insecurities in a safe place and gain wisdom and strength from other women.  I was fortunate to be the facilitator for this day.  But truly the best material came from the gaggle of courageous and forthright women who attended.

So Amen to all of us!  We are brave.  We are courageous.  We are seeking answers.  We are finding our path.

What fruit will come from this day together is yet to be determined.

In the meantime, I promised to post the resources I referenced for my talk.  Some of them are pretty dated but really.. how much does this wisdom change over the years?

Ban Breathnach, Sarah. Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1995.  Something More. Excavating Your Authentic Self. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1998.

Bolen, Jean Shinoda, M.D.Crossing to Avalon. A Woman’s Midlife Pilgrimage. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1994

Bridges, William. The Way of Transition. Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments. New York: Perseus Publishing, 2001.

Cameron, Julia. The Artist’s Way. A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1992.  The Vein of Gold. A Journey to Your Creative Heart. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc, 1996.

McCauley, Lucy; Carlson, Amy G.; and Leo, Jennifer.  A Woman’s Path. Women’s Best Spiritual Travel Writing. San Francisco: Publishers Group West, 2003.

Carter, Cherie-Scott, PhD. If Life is a Game, These are the Rules.  Ten Rules for Being Human. New York: Broadway Books, 1998.

Hendricks, Gay, PhD. A Year of Living Consciously. 365 Daily Inspirations for Creating a Life of Passion and Purpose. San Francisco: Harper/Collins Publishers, 1998.

Hendricks, Gay, PhD. & Hendricks, Kathlyn, PhD. Conscious Loving. The Journey to Co-Commitment. A Way to Be Fully Together Without Giving Up Yourself. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.

Livingston, Gordon, M.D. Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart.  Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now. New York: Marlowe & Company, 2004.

Martz, Sandra. The Tie That Binds. A Collection of Writings about Fathers & Daughters, Mothers & Sons. Watsonville, California: Paper-Mache Press, 1992.

Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. Gift from the Sea. New York: Random House, 1955 (the original printing)

Rupp, Joyce, OSM.  Praying Our Goodbyes. Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1993.

Viorst, Judith. Necessary Losses. The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow. New York: Ballantine Books, 1986.

That wonderful 80 year old therapist who has her office on the Alameda?  Email me and I’ll send you her information.

Sparkly pens- from Target :)

Thank you, ladies, for being such attentive and engaged participants!  Until we meet again..

Amen!

 

“Such is life!”

“Such is life!”

Life is fragile.

One day you are enjoying your privacy in your big two story house getting your own tea and bossing around your cleaning lady and the next day you have an accident, spend the night in a hospital and consequently have 100 of your closest relatives worrying and knowing what’s best for you.

“Such is life!” my father would say.

When Adele married Dad at the ripe age of 54 years old, having never been married before or had children, she inherited all of us whether she agreed to it or not.  My siblings and cousins, aunts and uncles, were all very pleased with Dad’s choice of a new wife.  She kept him happy and even and tethered.  Something every one of us Shaheens seems to need I might add.

Someone solid to bounce off of.  Someone kind to put up with us. Someone with an internal compass to keep us on track.  We are an unruly tribe.

She is all those things and independent to boot, coming from solid Irish Canadian stock.  Having been raised by the nuns in the French province of Montreal.  Liking her tea and rolls just so at a certain time of day and reading her paper from cover to cover without interruption.  I’m not sure she was ready for a rambunctious family such as ours.  Or the outpouring of concern when she needed some medical attention and “help” (God forbid!).

After spending four days with her I am in awe of her 92 years of wisdom, strength and fortitude.  Driving home from our visit, I had 6 plus hours to contemplate what it might be like to be in her shoes and wonder why everyone is making such a fuss about her living alone and carrying on her daily life.

“Why is everyone asking me how I am? Eh?”

When I’m 92 I want to be just like her.

Motherless…

Motherless…

I was at the supermarket balancing 6 month old Peter on my hip and purchasing groceries for a Mother’s Day Brunch for a small army, my shopping cart overflowing.  At 30 years old it wasn’t unusual for me to put on a feast for 30-40 people.  Doing take-out was never an option.  “Wow, are you having a party?” the checkout clerk asked.  Of course they always asked me that because, like my mother before me, my grocery cart was always piled high with food.  The more you feed your family, of course, the more you love them!

“Yes.. a Mother’s Day Brunch.  I wonder when it will be my turn to have a Mother’s Day?!” I said somewhat sarcastically and somewhat truthfully.  My Mother’s Day would be spent standing in the kitchen over a hot stove!  (Ha.. doesn’t that sound like something your mother would say?)

Be careful what you wish for.

By the following Mother’s Day my mother had succumbed to her battle with cancer and my mother-in-law had decided to go out of town.  I was to have MY day.

Still grieving the loss of my mom, I was not looking forward to celebrating.  My brother, Ronnie, joined us for brunch at a fancy shmancy hotel that had unlimited delectables and flowing champagne.  I should have felt like a queen.

But when Peter pitched the tenth tater tot from his high chair as my other two sons egged him on and howled uncontrollably, I dissolved into tears.  This was not the Mother’s Day I wanted.  I wanted my mother back.

Gathering children, diaper bags, to-go containers, etc, we made a quick escape and headed for home.  I slept for three hours and my brother, motherless as well, stayed and waited for me to wake up.  I  guess I scared everyone including myself with my emotional outburst in the restaurant.

It’s been 27 years since my sweet mother died and this day still brings back all those memories of her.  It was a significant loss at a very vulnerable time in my life.  I feel a bond with every woman who has lost their mother.  What is it that we know in our tortured wisdom?

We know that without our mother, no matter what type of relationship we had with her- wonderful or complicated- maybe both- there is a loss and an empty place.  We long for the bond we had or maybe the bond we never had with her.  We grieve the unconditional love that only a mother can give.  For everyone else we have to be strong or nurturing or unselfish or understanding.  But for our mom we can just be who we are.  And she will love us anyway.  And we feel an acceptance and a tether that allows us to be in the world with an unshakable foundation.

For those of us who are motherless, the bottom has fallen out and we now take on the responsibility to be a mother for others-  whether we are prepared for the significant task at hand or not.

Today I am thinking about one of our students at Presentation High School who just lost her mother tragically a few short weeks ago.  She is 14 years old.  My heart aches for her.  Her wound will never heal.

And remembering my precious mom, Dorothy, on this special day.

 

 

 

Remembering Mom

Remembering Mom

I love this picture of my mom holding my son Robert when he was 3 months old.  That joy you see in her expression and the contentment in little Robert’s face says it all.

Dorothy, Dottie, Dot, Auntie Dot, Sittie, Mom…   She answered to many names whenever and whomever called and needed her warmth and generous love, her comforting down home cooking or just her calm presence and her sensible outlook on life.

25 years ago today my mom left us for what we fantasize as a “better place”.  25 years ago her five sons sat around her bed in her home and waited with her for the angels to come.  I got the call at 3am, having gone home to nurse a hungry baby- my mom would have wanted me to do that.

We celebrated her life with family and friends and of course plenty of food.  She is the woman who taught me that food is love.  And she would have wanted us to eat and laugh and take care of each other in our grief.

When she died she left such a palpable void in our lives and I would guess in almost every life she touched.   I often wonder what we would have done together in the past 25 years if she were still here.  Mother daughter things…  shopping, pedicures, talking every day on the phone.  What mistakes might I have avoided and which decisions would I have made differently under the auspices of her motherly wisdom?  What kind of woman would I be today if I had had the benefit of her nurturing, her advice, and her confidence in me?

I can see her mushing over my grown sons, petting them and cooking for them and asking them questions that would be totally off limits for their mother to ask of course!  And they would answer and tell her everything.  Because she is their Sittie and they  love her and she would be an integral part of their lives as she was for all 13 of her grandchildren.  No words can express the sadness when I stop to think of how our lives would have been enriched by her unlimited and unconditional love for us.

Mom, we carry a torch for you.  We embody all the wonderful things you taught us.  Don’t fight with your siblings.  Be honest on your tax returns.  Love everyone and feed them if you have the opportunity.

We will, Mom, and we do.  We do it with you in our hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Dad.. The Eternal Optimist

My Dad.. The Eternal Optimist

My father always said that he had missed his calling.  He fancied himself a renowned psychologist existing inside the body of a real estate investor. He was a follower of Timothy Leary in the fifties, practiced Silva Mind Control and psycho-cybernetics in the sixties and seventies and was a charter member of Optimist International. When I was a teenager he bought me books to read with titles such as You Are Not The Target by Laura Archera Huxley and The 7 Day Mental Diet by Emmet Fox.  I grew up knowing what an “affirmation” was and had several taped to my bathroom mirror.

When I was first married my dad mentioned to my new husband that he was planning on purchasing the latest model Cadillac and in the meantime had placed a picture of it on the refrigerator where he could see it every day and visualize himself driving it.  This gained him quite the reputation with my very conservative Irish Catholic in-laws.

But I understood him and was one of his faithful disciples, standing by his side and believing in his seemingly far fetched ideas throughout my childhood.  In my teens his advice and wisdom elevated me out of the insecurities and doubts other adolescents experienced.  As a young adult I looked to him for confidence and support as I discovered how to be a good parent to my three sons.

My father was probably the biggest influence in my decision to study the field of psychology.  To this day I find such wisdom in books that I inherited from his bookshelf:  among them The Greatest Salesman in the World by Ogden Mandino, As a Man Thinketh by James Allen, Born To Win by Muriel James and Dorothy Jongward, and The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran…  all replete with his personal thoughts scratched in the margins and noteworthy sentences underlined.

His legacy lives on in my heart and on challenging days when I am dealing with seemingly rude and obnoxious people I still hear him saying to me “Sis baby.. you are not the target!”

Every little girl needs a daddy who calls her princess.  I had that man in my life.

Missing Edmund Francis Shaheen Sr. today and every day.  Happy Father’s Day to the first man I ever loved!

 

 

 

Diva to the World

Diva to the World

 

I celebrated my birthday on Thursday and am now another year older and a wee bit wiser.  Several years ago I received a birthday card from a wonderful friend that had a similar picture to this one on the outside and on the inside it said “Diva to the World”.  I loved that card and practically tore my bedroom apart last night looking for it but to no avail.

When a woman gets to a certain age birthdays take on a whole new meaning.  I am in no way a “Diva to the World” but I can appreciate that it is a goal to strive for when outward beauty wanes and inside wisdom takes precedence. There is certainly a profound moment when a woman realizes that this transition has occurred.

There is much responsibility that comes with being this kind of woman.  We have so much to share and teach through the manner in which we live our lives.  Do we whine about every wrinkle and emerging gray hair?  Or do we walk with confidence, knowing that we have discovered many of the secrets of life- having traversed our own personal paths through dark alleys and into unknown caves- across high scary platforms that have build within us character and strength.

As women of a certain age we have a responsibility to mentor, to refrain from destructive gossip and to uplift other women in our lives.  We also have the ability to love fully and unconditionally arising from the perspective we have gained in our years of chasing our own inner demons and knowing that none of us is without flaw or weakness.

I found this beautiful quote in one of my journals as I looked and looked for that Diva to the World birthday card.

A mode of conduct, a standard of courage, discipline, fortitude and integrity can do a great deal to make a woman beautiful.” ~Jacqueline Bisset

To all my “Diva” sisters…

Live with integrity and grace.

Happy Birthday.