Tag Archives: teens

What I Learned on Career Day…

career
as featured in Huffington Post 50

Recently, I was asked to be on a panel of professionals for Career Day at a local therapeutic prep school in the Montana woods. I had no idea what to expect. I went to a prep school, but not a “therapeutic” one. I went to one that was all about having big answers to the “what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you- grow-up” question. As a dreamy, driven teen, it was a challenge that both daunted and inspired me throughout my high school career. My dreams were always out-of-the-box — an artist of some sort — an actress, maybe a film-maker … but luckily I was someone who figured out how to be comfortably in-the-box, keeping my out-of-the-box thoughts mostly to myself. So I wrote a lot. That practice turned into an obsession which turned into a craft which turned into a career. That was the goal for this Career Day: panelists were supposed to tell our stories — talk about the arc of our careers, then and now. But we weren’t talking to in-the-box kids. It turned out, we were talking, quite frankly, to our interior adolescent selves.

Given the nature of the students at this school, I knew that my story had to be as transparent and true as possible. These weren’t kids who dance to any level of BS. They’ve been through hard stuff and they don’t want the Kool-Aid. They want the raw, the real, the impossible possible.

I practiced my 15-minute presentation in the car as I drove further and further into the woods. I speak and lead retreats about the power of using my profession (writing) as a therapeutic tool, so I figured I had this one in the bag. All I needed to add to my well-developed story was the part about how I discovered that creative self-expression on the page is an excellent way to process life, and how I’ve learned to practice this every day, against the odds. How it sustains me personally, and now financially. Lesson: find out what you love and do it with all your heart, no matter what, and eventually you will succeed, whatever that means to you. I’m living proof. Easy.

The first panelist to present was a prosecuting attorney. I prepared for a serious talk from a serious person. Instead, he talked about wandering. Living in Hawaii. Surfing. Snow-boarding. Bartending. Being misunderstood. Feeling like a loser. Worrying his parents. Wanting something different. And finding his way eventually to a profession that meets his needs. The second panelist was a successful web-developer with prominent clients all over the world. In his presentation, he talked about wandering. Living in New Zealand. Surfing. Skiing. Bartending. Turning down corporate America for mountain living. Worrying his parents. Wanting something different. Inventing things. When it was my turn, I found myself telling a very similar story, mostly the wanting-something-different component. Oh, and I bartended too. And wandered. And worried my parents.

We had three rotations of students who listened to our presentations, all with interesting questions, and a modicum of blank stares. These kids were listening. And we on the panel were listening to each other … three times. It’s one thing to wow a crowd with your best one-liners, cutting honesty, and slightly irreverent stories. But looking into the eyes of these kids who’ve travelled miles of hard road, there was zero room for schtick. I pride myself on heart language. Turning heart language into schtick is a depressing trajectory, but truth-be-told, it’s happened to me along the way, likely out of a self-preservation that grows from being constantly on the road, sharing your message. Given this Career Day format, there was no way it was happening here. Quite probably because of this fact, what I saw in myself and my co-panelists (we supposed “experts”) was a fountain of truth.

The first time around, we gave blow-by-blow plays on the journey of our careers. Fascinating details. Twists and turns. Yellow brick road of success with pitfalls you only admit when you’ve found your way to Oz. The second time, we three offered more — personal stuff, odd vignettes that ended up inspiring major life choices right down to a conversation on a plane and a pair of flip-flops. But before the third group of students came into the classroom, one panelist admitted, “I’ve been telling it wrong.” His eyes lit up and he offered to go first. He spoke about inventing things — got deep into what made him want to invent things and why. Which begat a confessional from the other panelist about how he didn’t always love his profession, but how he has learned to live by his principles, moment by moment. And when it was my turn, I got ready to tell my usual story — about wanting to follow my passion with all my might, even if it left me poor and unpopular … but instead, this voice escaped like it was pulling free from very old shackles:

“I wanted to be famous. Really famous. Meryl Streep famous. I was jealous of Julia Roberts. I wanted that career. I was jealous of the literary brat pack from the 80s. I wanted those careers. Desperately. But the voices inside my head were so loud: you’re not good enough, your dreams will never come true, who do you think you are to have those lofty dreams, you’re a show off, you’re self-centered, you’re not talented, you’re an embarrassment to your family, you’re a failure.” My heart pounded and my face heated, but I continued. “I’ve let my inner critic run me. Until very recently. Even though I give speeches and lead writing retreats about how to become aware of that voice and shed it, I’ve still allowed my inner critic to hold court. I don’t want that for you all.” And then privately, a very new thought brought me to my proverbial knees. And I added, “I never realized until this moment … that I’ve allowed her to be much freer than I am. She lives out-of-the-box. I’m the one still somehow in-the-box because she tells me the story, and I dance. I don’t want a story. I want to be rid of stories and just be.”

I looked at those kids and I realized: that’s what they wanted — to be free of their story. Of their pain, their pressure, their past. To free themselves of boxes altogether. And yes, to have permission to wander. And worry their parents.

I ended up staying for lunch. I sat with the students and answered more questions but mostly I listened to them. I commended them for being different and admitting it and wanting to understand themselves, truthfully. I commended them for being honest and outed for exactly where they are in their evolution. “Most of the stories we tell ourselves are myths,” I told them. “If there’s one thing to live by, it’s that. Find your truth, no matter how inconvenient, and live into it. And for what it’s worth, the “experts” are really grown-up high school kids, scared, just like you.”

1 Comment

Filed under My Posts

Conflict: A Love Story

images

As featured on Huffington Post 50

As some of you know, I’m spending the winter working on a novel I’ve wanted to write for many years.  It’s a love story.  Usually I write the “one woman’s search for _________________” kind of book.  But this time there are two protagonists, a man and a woman, and the story spans over fifty years of their lives.  It’s a made-up jaunt in the fields of abundant love, and who wouldn’t want to play around in those fields?  The bummer is…turns out, a love story is hard to write.  Go figure.  I thought it would be a breeze.

Here’s why:  in the story of every important relationship, real or imagined…there is a conflict.  It’s not about avoiding the conflict, or denying it, or being afraid to meet it head on—it’s about accepting the conflict and learning how to navigate it with all your heart.  That’s not easy when you factor in the origin and foundation of each player’s sense of self, future, safety, risk.  A love story can be blood-sport, and it often is.  It’s how you play the game that matters.  (Not that it’s a game—I’m just using a metaphor.  At least I didn’t use “s***-storm.”)

Most of us do not want to accept this universal truth.  We want our relationships to come easily, without bumps and hiccoughs, never mind gutting pain or bottomless challenges or high-altitude hopelessness.

In fact, you may be one of the people out there who blithely claims that there is no conflict in your relationships.  But I’m not sure I would believe you.  I have a Golden Retriever, known to be one of the most docile, uncomplicated, forgiving, accepting creatures on earth.  And believe me, we are in conflict every single day, and for a large part of it.

It goes something like this:  “No, I can’t pet you—you rolled in deer guts in the woods and you reek and I don’t have time to give you a bath.  Don’t give me those eyes again.  I can’t handle the guilt!  I have a deadline and I’m late to pick up the kids!  And no you can’t come in the car because you rolled in deer guts in the woods!  That’s what you get for being a Montana dog!  Maybe you’d rather live in a three story walk up in lower Manhattan and regularly go to a dog groomer, and enjoy Chinese take-out at the dog park!  I apologize for your 20 acres!  I know—I’m a horrible horrible person.  All you want is a little love.  I love you.  Does that work?  Do you speak English?  Can I write you a love poem instead of touching you right now?  Ugh.  I promise, I’ll get one of the kids to wash you later today.  I just don’t have time right now!  At least I let you in the house with the deer guts all over you!  Can you throw me a bone here?  Ok, that’s twisted.  I know.  Especially when I haven’t given you a bone in a long long time.  It’s probably my fault that you went out foraging for animal bones.  You’re probably lacking in calcium or something.”

And that’s just my relationship with my Golden Retriever.  You should hear my conversations with my teens!

This afternoon it sounded something like:  “I’ll give you five bucks to give the dog a bath.”

“I’ve got homework.”

“I’ve got basketball practice.”

“How about ten?”

“Twenty.”

“Fifteen.  Do you want me to show you the C-section scar again???”

“Fine.  I’ll do it for fifteen.  But I’m still mad at you for not teaching me how to do a somersault.”

I offered my best glare.  I should never have taught them how to negotiate so well.  Mother of the Year.

And so the dog, the dog I love, does not get rubbed behind the ears for the better part of the day.  But at least he gets to stay in the house.  (I don’t profess to have the cleanest house.  We choose our battles.)  And the teens, they get their homework done, and the dog gets washed eventually, and we sit at the table on that rare night when everybody’s home and we talk.  What do we talk about usually?  Relationships.  About them being hard.  With teachers, and friends, and family members, and bosses.  That’s the stuff of life:  conflict.  Otherwise there’s no story.  Otherwise we talk about the things you talk about when you’re trying to help your kid not have nightmares.   And strawberry shortcake and fields of daisies only go so far.  Strawberries mold, and daisies wilt, and fields get hit by thunderstorms and blight.

Think about it.  Even jokes have conflict.  They wouldn’t be jokes without them.  Here’s our family favorite:  ”So  there’re two muffins in an oven.  One muffin says to the other:  It sure is hot in here.  And the other muffin says, Wow.  A talking muffin.”  Conflict:  Muffin vs.  Nature.  Muffin vs.  Muffin.   Muffin vs. Itself.

The fun of it all is in Conflict Resolution.  After the dog gets his bath and you are snuggling with him, rubbing him behind the ears and down his back, after the kids forgive you for not teaching them to do a somersault, fifteen dollars richer, after the house is quiet and the I love yous get whispered…that’s when I’m thankful for the love story and its inherent conflicts.

There is an arc to love.  It doesn’t just hatch and bloom and self-groom.  It comes, double-helix sometimes, like the Northern Lights.  But one thing is sure:  it comes.  Maybe not in the way you’d like to write it—as a beautiful, sweeping, epic love story.  Maybe it just wants you to scratch behind its ears.  And take it for a drive with the window down.

…Or maybe you want to love yourself, and give yourself a Haven Retreat!

The next Haven is from April 2-6 at the fab El Ganzo in Los Cabos, Mexico– considered one of the most romantic places in the world.  It all begins with self-love:

11 Comments

Filed under My Posts

Breaking Point: #12

Today we have two teen Breaking Point stories– one of eating disorder and one of depression.  Perhaps you can relate personally or as a parent.  As I read these entries every morning, I at first feel a resistance to the experience of empathy and pain.  Yet with each one, by the end, something is released.  I hope it is the same for you.  Submissions are closed, but I encourage you to write your own Breaking Point story as a healing exercise. 

yrs. Laura

Submitted by: Natasha Kasprzyk , who blogs here.

“When You Know That It’s Real”

There was only one good thing about going to St. Juliana’s: Noon release on Fridays.

Early release from being teased at recess while the slap of jump ropes smacked on the blacktop, the stares of indignation when I, the Jew, dared to ask a question in Mrs. Lidgus’s Religion class; the hiding between the toilet and the back left corner of the bathroom stall, focusing my tear-filled eyes on the spit wads clinging to the ceiling, while Chris Flosi told Mary Fahey what an ugly fat slob I was.

In other words, release from (insert sign of the cross here) Hell.

Of course, early release meant trekking over to my mother’s office for the afternoon, because god forbid I actually get four hours of peace and be by myself in my own house…well, my mother’s house, that is. It wasn’t mine, I was reminded on a regular basis.

My one saving grace, one area of neutral territory between this version of jail and that, one place where I could seek solace was watched over by a benevolent little girl, face doused with freckles and topped with vibrant red, braided hair.

Wendy’s.

Every Friday, I stood in the winding line, waiting to approach the counter where I could spend MY money on MY lunch, as if the grease and cheese and starch and carbonation could transport me into a world without judgment, if only for a few, high-calorie minutes.

Kathy always worked the register on Fridays. Tightly cropped curls framed her face, and at the time I thought she wore an expression of focus, but now I wonder if it was resignation at what her career had become. She smiled when she saw me in line, as if I were an old friend who had come to break up the monotony of her day.

One afternoon, I knew I needed to make a change. This lunch just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. Whether I ordered my burger with extra ketchup or lettuce-free, it no longer brought me the pleasure it once had. Something was missing. And I decided that something was a second hamburger patty.

I finally arrived at the front of the line, ready to give Kathy my order, and in return, she would validate my existence for the week.

“Welcome to Wendy’s. How may I help you?”

Oh, Kathy, I thought. Enough with the pretenses…you could drop the formalities with me!

I smiled, cleared my throat, and said, “I’d like a combo meal, please…with a double cheeseburger.”

The corners of Kathy’s smile fell into a thin line, her lips held together tight until the right words were ready to come out. She looked left, checking to see if anyone would notice she was about to break character, leaned forward, and said, “Honey…do you really think you need that much food?”

Did she really just say that? Kathy, my one oasis in the middle of Hell?

I looked down to hide tears of embarrassment, put my money in my pocket, set my straw, two napkins, and four ketchup packets on the counter, and slipped out the side door.

I wasn’t hungry anymore.

 

Submitted by:  Mary Novaria

Her blog, A Work in Progress, is found here

Also on Facebook — www.facebook.com/mimsy811

A call from the school is rarely a good thing. When my phone rings and I see the caller ID, I resist the urge to let it go to voicemail, my thoughts wavering between now what? and impending doom.

“I have Hannah in my office,” says Mrs. K, the school psychologist. “She’s in a pretty dark place. Can you come to school so we can talk?”

“Of course,” I whisper calmly, although I am not calm.

Senior year. Until now, Hannah has attended school in our neighborhood. Less than a block away, I can see it from my kitchen window. It ‘s quicker to walk there than to drive and find parking. Wanting a fresh start, Hannah has transferred to a new school ten miles away.

I breathlessly sign in at the front office, a security measure that annoys me since I am in a mad dash to get to my daughter who doesn’t say much, but lets me hug her. We follow Mrs. K into a classroom and sit around a table with Hannah’s guidance counselor, assistant principal and gifted education teacher. They are concerned and sympathetic. Hannah looks small and pale. She’s huddled in a jacket with a sweatshirt pulled over her head, a state her dad calls being “hooded.” Hannah’s ever-present hoodie has become a security blanket, although it seems to make her more separate than secure. A symbol of retreat, the hoodie is a silent decree: Leave Me Alone. But a mother just can’t leave a troubled kid alone and neither can these educators who, although they’ve only known my daughter and our family for a few months, really seem to care.

“We are worried that Hannah isn’t safe, that she’s going to hurt herself.”

No one uses the word “suicide” or the phrase “kill herself” but we all know that’s what we’re talking about. The room begins to close in on me yet, somehow, also seems too cavernous for such an intimate discussion. High ceilings, fluorescent lights, institutional furniture… an assistant principal with tears in her eyes.

“I just want to get out of here.” It’s the only thing Hannah says.

“Before you can go,” Mrs. K says, “We need to be sure you’re not going to harm yourself, Hannah. Can you tell us you won’t?”

She can’t. Or she won’t. One thing I know about my daughter is she detests being on the spot. If she is backed into a corner she will dig in her heels and there will be an epic standoff. For the next hour, each of us tries to get a guarantee from Hannah that she’s not going to carry out some dark and deathly plan. I am grateful this isn’t my battle alone. Hannah knows exactly what she needs to do to escape this intervention and she won’t do it. It is a quiet and indirect cry for help.

“Hannah, I’m going to ask your mother to take you to the hospital…” Turning to me, Mrs. K asks, “Will you do that, Mom?”

“Yes. I will,” I say, aching from my tensed, furrowed brow to the knotted pit in my gut.

“No! I won’t go!” Hannah says defiantly.

“Then tell us you’re going to be safe,” someone pleads.

Silence.

We’re not making progress. The adolescent psych hospital is not far away.

“They won’t admit you unless they feel it’s necessary,” I tell Hannah.

I am glad someone else can decide. This is the fifth time in the last year Hannah has had a hospital assessment related to her severe anxiety and depression. The first resulted in a week-long day program. The most recent was a six-week inpatient treatment center 2,000 miles away. Now this.

At the hospital, Hannah still won’t articulate a safety plan and is thought to be a danger to herself. She is admitted. She is furious. I want to take her home but I am too scared. She was gone over Thanksgiving. And Christmas. Then, finally, home for New Year’s. We had a fresh start, a new beginning, a healthy girl, hope.

That was three weeks ago.

 

9 Comments

Filed under Breaking Point, My Posts

Being a Princess

A word on being a princess for iVillage. I invite you to go there to comment. Thanks!

Princess by Laura Munson

When my daughter was in second grade, she wanted to be an almond for Halloween.
“An almond?” I asked her, smiling but sort of worried for her in the way of playground politics.
“Yes,” she said with knowing eyes. “An almond.”
So we made a foam and corduroy sandwich board, and she slipped it over her head, sporting a brown turtleneck and black leggings. It reminded me of Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird” dressed up like a ham. I had a kid like Scout. I was proud.
And I stood there watching the school pageant, girl after girl in Walt Disney costumes– Belle, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella… smiling and waving, regal, and there was my daughter, parading as a bona fide nut. At first she smiled her knowing smile, but little-by-little it dawned on her that she was not just a minority, but one of a kind. And she didn’t like it one bit. When it was over, she came to me crying, innocence lost, red faced and ripped off: “Why are all the girls dressed as princesses?” like where are all the almonds of the world?
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to tell her that being an almond was harder. That it took a certain moxie and confidence and resilience. I didn’t want to tell her that society created and prized princesses. I didn’t want to tell her that I’d almost been one.
You see, I hail from a demographic that lauded and honored the glorious gown, the high forehead, the pearls, the pedigree, debutantes, boarding school, society weddings—our country’s version of princesses. When I was my daughter’s age, Lady Di and Prince Charles walked down the aisle and every one of us dreamed of having a gown like that, and an aisle like that. And where I came from, for some of us, it was possible. Our mothers would make it possible. I was thankful and I was lucky and I was ready to embrace it all.
But by and by, I started to see that money didn’t bring you happiness. It brought you comfort. And as I grew older, and watched Diana and Fergie both fall from grace and bust through the myths they were procured to uphold, I related with them. I didn’t have their crowns or their jewels or their royal pressure, but I did understand the pressures of society in the way of a well-heeled upbringing and what that meant the future should look like. I didn’t know if I wanted that future. Not if it meant that I couldn’t be myself, warts and all.
Mostly, I had questions: How could I be a feminist and parade in ball gowns in front of elite boy blue bloods, window shopping for future society wives? How could I be an artist, channeling the human condition, in rooms so opulent, so exclusive? How could I, in good conscience, advocate against oppression from a view so high atop a “throne?”
My father was from homesteading and farm stock and he told me over and over “People are the same everywhere.” In my heart I knew this was true. He’d put it to the test. I wanted to put it to the test, only in the reverse. So I left. Even though I loved that world. I needed to see what the rest of the world was made of and if my father was right.
So I became a writer, fell in love with a fellow journeyer, married, and eventually moved to rural Montana where we had two children and have lived ever since. One of them is my almond daughter, now parading on the garden path of womanhood. She has a great head on her shoulders—more than I did at her age. She still has that almond state of mind. She does things like cut her hair short because she’s interested in just how much power long hair has when it comes to boys paying attention to you. Or not piercing her ears when all the other girls have. Or wearing braids and no make up to a school dance. Or researching Abercrombie before she decides to be its walking billboard. I am still proud of her.
So you can imagine my surprise this morning on the way to school when they were talking about Kate Middleton, the soon to be princess, on NPR, and I asked my daughter: “Would you ever want to marry a prince?” I expected overt rejection, disdain, ridicule– things she is known to express.
“Of course!” she said, hungrily. “I’d LOVE to be a princess.”
I felt the need then to remind her how Princess Diana died. How she couldn’t go to the grocery store, or the farmer’s market, or to town with greasy hair, or do much of anything without having cameras in her face and the scrutiny of nations.
And with eyes as the windows-to-the-soul that they still are, my daughter said, “If I loved him and he loved me…then I don’t see how it’s any different. Princess or no princess. People are the same everywhere when it comes to love.” My father’s message in my daughter, on a windy country road in Montana.
And there was nothing I could say to that. Princesses can be almonds and vice versa. And mothers can learn from their daughters.

7 Comments

Filed under Motherhood, My Posts

Bodhisattva


Meet Bodie. My 14 year old daughter’s bear. She named him on her own at age two. Not knowing anything about Bodhisattva, and if I’ve ever seen an enlightened relationship between one creature and another, it’s with those two. I bought him when she was in utero because my father-in-law gave me some money for shopping, and I was in New York, and I thought, “My God, when am I going to have the dough to buy Steiff for my kid.” I coveted Steiff as a kid. I had one small small lamb that my mother gave me, and it’s one of my prize posessions– house is burning down kind of beloveds. I love those hard, mohair stuffed German animals. Love them. But they’re expensive. So I blew that $$$ in FAO Schwarz and it just so happened that the kid who came out loved/loves that bear. Bodie has been all over the place with us. He’s a well travelled bear.
<
So when I picked my daughter up after a week of sleep away camp this summer, she looked at me, about to be a freshman in high school, and said, a plain, impassioned: "Bodie broke."

In my mind it was code for: "My childhood is ending and I'm going to be okay."
Was I okay?
Not really.
Until I saw what she had done with Bodie.
She had packed duct tape. And gauze. All on her own. What 14 year old girl packs duct tape for a week at camp? Mine, turns out. I was so proud.
She and her bunk mate doctored Bodie. And here he is. Maybe in his finest hour. I'm told you can send them back to Germany to be sewn back together. No way. This is what we will go into her teens with. This is Bodie. And he will be our guide.

12 Comments

Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, Motherhood, My Posts