Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Secret--inspiration or bunk?

The Secret is a trend spreading so fast it's hard to keep up with. I'd watched the DVD about a month ago, and now that Oprah has featured it twice, the book, DVD, and CDs are tops at Amazon.com. I was preparing this blog posting today, when in my mailbox The Secret showed up as a feature in Newsweek. Despite this massive media exposure, I still feel like I have something to add to the conversation.

My initial reaction to watching The Secret was that it was complete bunk. The secret is "the law of attraction" which the authors state means that "everything that's coming into your life you are attracting into your life. And it's attracted to you by the virtue of the images you're holding in your mind. It's what you're thinking. Whatever is going on in your mind you are attracting to you."

So if you change your thoughts, you will change your life. The positive and negative implications of this idea are as obvious as they are troubling. It's great to think you can "attract" a million dollars to yourself. But awful to think that you could "attract" cancer.

As a teacher myself, I was disappointed to see the ideas in the DVD presented in rapid-fire soundbites with a lot of distracting background animation. Just as a speaker was getting around to saying something interesting, you'd be on to a new person. (By the way, if you saw The Secret segments on Oprah, you don't need to buy the book or DVD. There really isn't more to it than was discussed on these TV segments.)

As a former scientist, I am always frustrated that people glom onto science only when it seems to benefit them. Readers suddenly care about "a magnetic signal that is drawing the parallel back to you" because they think it can make them rich. When The Secret's authors say, "Quantum physicists tell us that the entire universe emerged from thought!" I really want to know what that is supposed to mean.

I think there is a core of a wonderful idea in The Secret that is presented in this DVD and book merely as candy-coated, imaginary thinking that perfectly suits American tastes. It is interesting that producer Rhonda Byrne is Australian, and yet she chose twenty-four Americans to serve as teachers in The Secret. The "teachers" are notable for their impeccable marketing credentials rather than logical heirs to the intellectual tradition of luminaries such as Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Newton, Emerson, or Jesus, all of whom are referenced as historical bearers of The Secret.

So why did I decide to keep the DVD rather than selling it on eBay? I sensed a promising kernel of truth to be explored. I realized that I had applied many of these principles in my life. After all, I had envisioned Mojo Mom from scratch, as a new concept. I created my website, manifested my ideas in physical form (as a published book), gave a lot of talks, and shared my ideas with the world. I have found that anyone who likes my book enough to contact me is generally someone I should know! I was very deliberately broadcasting my ideas to the world and paying attention to who responded. In some sense this agrees with what the "law of attraction" is all about.

My problem is with the oversimplification of this idea. I didn't just wish Mojo Mom into being. I dedicated myself to working hard for years to bring it to life, and I continue to work on it every day. Fortunately, there are teachers who tap into the same vein as The Secret but provide more substance and depth.

Great faith traditions are one place to look, but if you are interested in a more secular and specific course, I would like to point you toward Napoleon Hill's Keys to Success: The 17 Principles of Personal Achievement. Hill's work was recommended by Donald Mitchell in his Amazon.com review of The Secret, so I can say that I learned something as a result of The Secret that I wouldn't have known otherwise (thanks to Mitchell, that is; as far as I can tell, Napoleon Hill is not referenced in The Secret itself).

To boil Hill's story down, in the early 20th century he was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie to spend decades interviewing luminaries such as Thomas Edison, Charles Schwab, and Theodore Roosevelt in order to develop a "Philosophy of Achievement." Hill's "Keys to Success" include elements such as having a burning desire to reach a "definite major purpose." Then he tells readers to develop their minds, act with complete integrity, stay focused, over-deliver to their clients, and be of useful service to others. He does emphasize having a positive mental attitude, visualizing goals in a manner that is similar to The Secret, but there is so much more to his ideas. It reminds me of when I took a cooking class and the teacher emphasized the quality of the ingredients as much as proper technique. The cooking school embraced the idea of "with ingredients like that, the product has to be great!" and that's what Hill's philosophy embodies to me.

Hill's work has a definite 20th century, white male capitalistic emphasis, but that's to be expected given that he published his most popular book, Think and Grow Rich in 1937. I encourage you to read his work and mine his wisdom. Hill had the marketing savvy to call his book Think and Grow Rich, but what he means is applying your passion and hard work to achieve your goal, which takes an awful lot more than just wishing. Hill's namesake foundation carries out his work to this day, and they are even releasing a new DVD in March. I'll be very interested to see how it competes with The Secret.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially any reactions to Napoleon Hill's work.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Are they trying to cure us of our Oscar habit?

I watch the Oscars every year and kind of hate myself afterward for suffering through such a bloated event. If I could have watched the ceremony on TiVO today I could have had 20 minutes of fun. But I knew I wouldn't be able to watch today, so I recorded it last night and tried to leave enough TiVO padding that I didn't have to suffer through real time. Pilobolus dancers turning into penguins? Not entertaining enough to make up for the fact that it was irrelevant to the actual awards-giving. (Okay, I did laugh at the Snakes on a Plane configuration!)

There was so much filler and overlong boredom (not to mention ads--that was the least of the problems) that I had time to watch half of Saturday Night Live, the Oscars red carpet show AND The Barbara Walters Special by switching back to recorded shows each time I "caught up" to the live broadcast.

Very brief impressions: Ellen DeGeneres wasn't nearly funny enough. Helen Mirren was gorgeous, and my new acting and style idol. I loved hearing Jennifer Hudson sing--in fact the best moment of the evening was on The Barbara Walters Special when Barbara asked Jennifer to sing and she belted out an Oscar-night-worthy performance right there from her interview seat. Steve Carell--I alwasy love to see him and I am glad Little Miss Sunshine did well, but didn't win Best Picture. That would have been too much. I am glad Scorcese won but didn't see The Departed, Babel or Letters from Iwo Jima so I didn't really have a horse in that race. Al Gore was looking very Presidential. I really wish he'd started channeling his Inconvenient Truth passion about 8 years earlier!

Jerry Seinfeld was the best presenter. Anyone who can make the (exceedingly depressing) documentary category funny should be promoted to host next year. But unless my man Jon Stewart hosts again, or there are a massive number of movies I really care about next year, you can count me out of the audience. Last night's "flooding" treatment has cured me of my Oscars habit.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

MomsRising coverage -- let's give this story "legs"

MomsRising.org received fantastic coverage today in The New York Times. The feature focused on MomsRising house parties to watch the DVD, a topic that is near and dear to my heart, as I will be encouraging all of my MojoMom.com readers host a party to watch The Motherhood Manifesto documentary in the near future.

MomsRising provides much-needed common ground for the motherhood movement--common ground for the dozens of aligned organizations, and an online organizing community that is open to people of all political parties.

Let's work together to give this New York Times coverage "legs"--attention and longevity. If you are already a registered New York Times website user it is easy to do so. If you visit the article's web page, you will see the option to email it to friends through the Times' website. We should all send it to as many people as possible, both because it's a great story, and if it gets emailed enough, it will show up on the Times' home page in the list of Most Emailed Stories. As I am writing this, the article has just cracked the top 10 list! This will get even more people to read it.

A few more thoughts on why I think MomsRising is so important:

In the fall of 2005, Jennifer Wilkinson of Brain, Child magazine wrote Say You Want a Revolution? Why the Mothers' Revolution Hasn't Happened....Yet about the difficulties of getting critical mass of leadership and attention to move the cause forward. This motherhood movement is, understandably, by necessity dispersed and grassroots-oriented. If you've ever tried to schedule a conference of mothers you'll see how hard it is to get everyone together in one place at one time. Many women have worked to make the women's movement, and motherhood movement, a serious social effort. I believe that MomsRising is taking the movement past the tipping point by providing a virtual, online mechanism for organizing. Now "naptime activists" truly can participate whenever and wherever they are.

I have been reading and thinking about the constraints of organizing the 1970's women's movement. If you weren't living in New York and working at Ms. Magazine, there wen't many avenues to become a major player. Mothers would have a hard time coming to meetings or attending marches. Now a woman in Chapel Hill, Boise or Baton Rouge can participate on expanded playing field. MomsRising is truly an important catalyst bringing us all come together and creating action steps that empower each of us to hold our leaders accountable for their promises of a "family-friendly America."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Little Princesses and Disillusioned Moms

I've been writing about the need to bridge the "gap between expectation and reality" for a few years now. For me the reality of motherhood was a challenge, but the most difficult thing was actually saying goodbye to my fantasies of what being a Mom would be like. A sleeping baby, an easily balanced life?--oops, it turned out that life wasn't that simple. For a while I beat myself up, wondering where I got my unrealistic ideas. Then I realized they were being marketed to me from every angle. The love, marriage, baby carriage fantasies start young. I'd pin Cinderella as my earliest culprit. We are taught to think that we'll go from servant girl to princess when the opposite process is closer to reality!

There's a good piece on Alternet today that focuses on the marketing angle. In The Big Corporate Motherhood Conspiracy, Janina Stajic says:

"And now, in a bid to repeat this success, a new industry has been born: the motherhood industry. Set up solely to sell women a new myth, the myth of the problem- and pain-free motherhood, it focuses only on the very best experiences that motherhood offers: the wonder of being pregnant, the experience of nursing a child, of watching them sleeping in their crib, of reading them classics such as Goodnight Moon and of course, of taking glorious walks with your partner and your perfect little bundle of joy tucked inside that SUV-sized stroller....Indeed, the relentless, challenging, overwhelming, sometimes downright depressing parts of motherhood are entirely disregarded."

Ack, as I was writing this, The Right Start sent me a marketing email touting their new Think Pink Shop, selling pink strollers, care seats, and training potties! 70 pink products, "gifts to pamper your littlest princess."

Make it stop!!!!! I started writing about one kind of conspiracy and it's morphed into another. Okay, take a deep breath. Time to reread the 1972 story X: A Fabulous Child's Story, by Lois Gould, about a child who is raised without anyone knowing its gender.

I wrote Mojo Mom to provide a realistic and hopeful alternative to the marketing machine/fairy tale myths of motherhood. Understanding and accepting the realities of our current lives is a good place to start. My favorite book that explores this topic in a thorough and accessible way is When You're Falling, Dive: Accepance, Freedom and Possibility by Zen teacher Cheri Huber. This is a reassuring, blessedly simple and wise book--an oasis in our complicated and sometimes insane world.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

President's Day and Preschool sign-up advice

Today is President's Day, surely one of the most useless holidays of the year. Forgive me for being cranky but the parade of holidays has becomen ENDLESS. The barely have the Valentine's candy swept out before the huge Easter candy displays comes in (already in full swing at my local grocery store).

They may as well give us an IV drip of glucose and declare a perpetual holiday.

But I will do my best to turn my cranky tirade into a useful public service message. This is the time of year where you may be asked to sign up for preschool next fall. A lot of my friends stressed out about signing up for 5-day-a-week preschool, thinking that it would be too much for their child.

Here's the secret: Between holidays, sick days, teacher work days, conferences, snow days, and LIFE, a 5-day week is almost never a 5-day week. I don't think we've had a full 5-day school/work week since before Halloween, unless you count my trip to California last week. This week we have two days off for conferences, but they didn't have enough slots to accommodate all the parents in my class, so in the final analysis, we are missing 2 days of school for....nothing?

When my daughter was in Monday-Wednesday-Friday preschool, she had a hard time adjusting to that on-off switching. She is a creature of habit to the max, and the steadiness of a (theoretical) 5 day preschool week actually suited her fine. When she was two and a half and in a toddler program, I will admit that the benefit was more for to give me a break than for her enrichement, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that when she was 3 and started full-time preschool she actually got a lot out of being in a school community.

We have a lot of stomach flu going around our area right now. They've had to close some hospitals and schools. So I'm sending a shout-out to all the parents who have more to contend with than two days off for conferences. I hope everyone stays as healthy as possible. Time to break out the Purell!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Not "Why me?" but "What's next?"

As Mojo Mom, I try to strike a balance between a focus on individual action and the acknowledgement of "structual issues" in our society. These forces remain in a constant state of tension. As a society we face discrimination against mothers, racism and sexism to deal with. But for me, on an individual level, it has been helpful to live as though I am in control of my destiny, as I make major decisions. This serves as an inoculation against learned helplessness and beats back the general depression that would result from a totally harsh assessment of the state of the world.

In church this morning my pastor, Jill Edens, gave a brilliant sermon that referenced Reynolds Price's book, A Whole New Life, An Illness and a Healing, Price's memoir of his experiences with spinal cancer and his resulting paralysis. There were so many quotes that I couldn't jot down....I definitely want to read the book. Price talks about the necessity to get a whole new life in the face of his excruciating and potentially deadly battle with cancer. It made me think of the challenges of motherhood, in which we are on some level asked to give up our prior life and identity and create a new one. As I have said previously, this experience has given me the wisdom to face other challenges that have come down the road in the past seven years.

My favorite idea from Jill's sermon was that when we're faced with a crisis, instead of asking "Why me?" we need to be able to look forward and ask "What's next?" To me this provides the bridge that closes the gap between individual responsibilty and social/structural issues. When we face a challenge, we can't get stopped in the tracks of our own victimhood, no matter how justified our grievances may be. We need to keep evolving, no matter how hard it may be to say goodbye to our former, hard-earned, well-deserved lives. Jill said that growth and change often come on like a catastrophic earthquake, rather than a peacful and idyllic image such as a tree stretching gently upward toward the sun.

We'll see if I have the courage to live by these words. I am sure I'll re-read them one day and say "That was easy to write but hard to do." I hope I'll have a wise mentor like Jill to turn to in that moment, as I have before.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Lost": It all makes sense now. Does that mean I'm crazy?

[Note from Mojo Mom: This posting has nothing to do with motherhood but I am following my writing muse. It's my party and I'll blog about pop culture if I want to!]

After this week's Desmond-centric episode of Lost, the show's big picture all seemed to fall into place for me. Givent that the plotline has become so complicated, this was a major CLICK. This is a spolier-iffic speculation, so if you are a fan of the show, make sure you watch it before reading on.

In "Flashes Before Your Eyes" Desmond reveals that when the hatch blew, he was transported back in time and space, off the island, back to his old life. The episode becomes a meditation on fate and destiny, choice and pre-determinism. A mysterious woman tells Desmond that "the universe has a way of course-correcting," so that if dying is "your path," no matter what you do, or how you are warned, you'll die. You don't do things because you choose to but because you're supposed to. Despite his attempts to change his fate, he ends up more or less on the same path he was on, when he is hit on the head and wakes up again on the island after the explosion.

Post-explosion, Desmond has the ability to see the future. He says that when the hatch blew, his life flashed before his eyes, and those flashes are still happening, sometimes including future events that can't be changed--though he's still trying to make a difference by saving Charlie, who seems doomed to die.

My theory is that "Flashes before your eyes" is the key to the entire puzzle. Each show is full of flashbacks, which the audience has interpreted as narrationn filling in character backstory. And what happens when Smoky, the island monster, scans someone--remember Eko's life flashing before his eyes in the smoke? And what to make of the recurring images of close-ups on eyes?

I think it all comes together this way:

The Island is set apart from normal space/time. Pushing the button in the hatch "lets off steam" from the anomaly in a safe and controlled way. [Don't ask me how this got set up originally or who the Hanso foundation is or who the Others are.] So Desmond pushing the button really was saving the world. The first time the button didn't get pushed on time, when Desmond was away too long, the anomaly started to rupture. This brought Oceanic Flight 815 crashing onto the Island. Now this was a colossal mistake in the grand scheme of the universe. So there must be some wiggle room in the way events unfold for the button to not get pushed, but it created a huge problem. This plane wasn't supposed to crash and these people weren't supposed to die or get stranded on an Island.

The Universe has a big problem now and the rest of the show is about the "course-corrrection." The character flashbacks are a review showing how each person fits into the world, the destiny cause and effect chains they are linked to. I think Smoky the monster is actually a micro-version of the anomaly/the hatch blowing up. I think that Smoky can bend time and space, and when it appears that a person is being killed by the smoke monster, it really means that they are plucked from the Island's space/time limbo and being re-inserted back into their proper place in the world.

Smoky then becomes like God, scanning people, looking into their souls and destinies. I am not sure what level of intelligence or consciousness is involved in this, or just natural laws doing their thing. The space/time anomaly can explain the strange appearances of Jack's father and other strange visions in the Island, such as Hurley's friend Dave. Just about anyone from any time could show up.

I believe that in the final analysis, Locke is the one person whose true destiny is to be on the Island. Perhaps he'll end up being the next caretaker of the anomaly.

Going back and forth between the Island and the Real World is apparently possible but perhaps distruptive or difficult. I think that Juliet essentiallly told Jack that she'd come to the Island on September 11, 2001--the most disruptive day in our history. Cause or effect? When "the sky went purple" after the hatch blew up, the connection to the real world may have become disrupted or shifted to a different frequency. Mr. Friendly seemed to start to say that after the sky went purple they could no longer escape from the Island.

One final idea, Lost has a fair number of Star Wars references--Sawyer as Han Solo, for sure (James Ford. Harrison Ford was a carpenter, by the way, aka a "Sawyer"). The idea of fate being determined and everybody being connected sounds a lot like The Force. Lost has so many literary and philosophical references, from Stephen King to Dickens, Dostoyevsky, a Clockwork Orange, and everything in between. So maybe in the end the entire delicious journey of Lost will be a shout-out in honor of pop culture and a liberal arts education.

Unless otherwise referenced, these new ideas are my own! Looks like maybe I've got a Lostpedia article in the works.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Mojo Mom is back...and my podcast WILL return

I am back from my trip to California, a day late and a dollar short. My flight home from San Francisco through Chicago was cancelled on Tuesday night, and my replacement flight through Dulles airport was not a sure thing on Wednesday. I ended up on a flight to Greensboro NC that took off at 7:30 pm--originally scheduled for 12:30 pm! This was one of my most difficult traveling experiences in a while, with weird hangups at every turn, such as the power going out in the San Francisco Airport Hyatt hotel as I was packing to leave at 5 am on Wednesday morning. That was really spooky. The emergency lights came on in the hall, but my room's window looked out on an interior atrium, so it was pitch black and I couldn't tell whether the lights were out in the whole city. Fortunately it was just our hotel, so I got a glow stick, packed and high-tailed it out of there.

But after reading about the JetBlue passengers who were trapped in their airplane on the runway at Kennedy Airport for 8 hours, I can only count my blessings!

My Kidpower instructor training was fantastic. It was a jam-packed 5-day experience that allowed us to work with a number of elementary students, who were very understanding about the fact that we were in training. You can expect to hear more about this evolving project as the year goes on. This training gave me my teaching mojo back, which feels wonderful.

You can also expect The Mojo Mom Podcast to return. Recording the show is fun and easy--I love talking to Sheryl and my guests. There is not too much post-production on the show, but it always ends up taking a couple of hours, which I just have not had recently. Between family commitments, weather, work and travel, I am just doing my best to keep up these days. But you can count on a new podcast episode in the next week.


Friday, February 09, 2007

"If you see something, say something"

It's nonstop excitement in my world as I tried to keep things together this week in preparation for a trip to California that I'd planned for a long time. For the next few days I'll be in intensive instructor training to teach child safety classes. This training is only offered once or twice a year, so even with all that is going on at home, everyone in my family supported me going.

I'll tell you more about this specific training after I complete it. Child self-defense is a longstanding interest of mine that grew largely out of my experiences teaching high school. The wonderful, intelligent teenagers I worked with were about to move away from home, but had never been taught personal safety skills, even though they lived in San Franscisco and endured harassment on the street every day. When it came to dating, the young women in my classes did not feel empowered to honestly tell a guy that they were not interested in dating him. They felt like they had to give confusing, sugar coated messages, "I'm not interested in a relationship right now...." that left the door open for later intrusion, in order to avoid hurting a guy's feelings.

To make a long story short, I realized that these teens should have been receiving safety and abuse prevention messages since they were kids, so in 2002 I developed a curriculum to teach these skills to parents, to enable them to teach these skills to ther children. Spark Seminars was born. I taught a number of seminars, which was a great experience, but unfortunately, it took much more time to get booking for the seminars than I had available for that task. I had created a marketing job for myself when I really wanted a teaching job. I put that business on the back burner for a while as I wrote Mojo Mom. But like all true interests, my plan to teach child safety is back, and now I have developed many of the community connections and marketing skills I need (not to mention more realistic expectations of what is involved) to be more effective this time around.

One of the most important principles in abuse prevention is to be able to speak up and ask for help when you need it. Social psychology has taught us that that's harder than you'd expect, which is why practice and training are important. When I was in Australia last year I was impressed by the signs on public transportation that stated, "If you see something, say something." That small reminder may be enough to prod people into taking individual action.

I had a frightening reminder of that principle yesterday. Flying to California, I changed planes in Chicago. When the pilots fired up the huge engines on our 777, thick yellow smoke came out. This happened twice in quick succession. It didn't look like steam or fog, it looked like real smoke that was associated with a real fire. It was one of those kind-of-confusing, what-just-happened moments. Was it because of the frigid weather? Was it something to do with de-icing? I decided that wasn't my call to make, but that I just had to report what I saw to the flight attendant. She called the pilots and they said everything was okay, that this was normal for starting up in 0 degree weather. They appreciated me telling them what I had seen.

I didn't panic, especially since we were still on the ground, but I did have that moment of wondering if we were going to have to evacuate the plane on the runway. The true terror would be to take off in a jumbo jet in a potentially unsafe situation. So, I'll say it again, IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Are you prepared for a Grandparent crisis?

As I wrote about in my last blog post, the challenges of aging parents are really on my mind lately as I work through my own family's health crisis. There are obvious risk factors to consider, such as your parent's financial stability and whether they have health insurance. But I have been thinking of other factors that affect your role as a supportive adult child.

Think over this list--and I'll give you a tip, the key here is communication. If you find issues you haven't thought about, please find the courage to talk to your parents, spouse and siblings as appropriate. When you are hit with a sudden crisis you will be GLAD YOU PLANNED. Whenever I say "parents" please consider your "in-laws" as well.

You may find yourself expectededly caught in a crisis if:

You are an only child.

Your parents disagree about how and where they should be spending their retirement years.

You have siblings who are not committed to helping out, or who say they will help out but don't follow through.

Your parents are divorced. Two single parents have different challenges than a couple.

Your parents live far away from family.

Your employer is not supportive of your rights to take family leave.

Your husband expects you to deal with his parents.

You and your parents have not talked about their long-term plans, but have expectations that may not match yours.

You have cultural issues that place the care of elderly parents in the hands of daughters and other female relatives.

Your parents do not have updated wills or other important estate planning documents, such as a health-care power of attorney or living will.

Your parents are have unrealistic expectations about their long-term plans.

You are stretched to the limit of what you can handle on a good day, and a crisis would be way too much to deal with.

Your spouse is not able to handle the kids on his own in your absence.

You do not have a support network of friends to call upon.


Making decisions about the well-being elderly parents is something that most of us will have to face. These decisions can take months or years of gentle prodding and listening in the best of circumstances. Please start now. These issues are difficult to face, and may require assistance from therapists, clergy, trusted friends and family members to work out. Honesty is truly the best approach. If your parents have stated or unstated intentions to live with you, and that plan does not work for your family, you need to talk.

Many of us have complicated situations. After reading my last blog post, my own Mom emphasized to me that these issues go on for years. My family's generational sandwich is a quadruple-decker. At age 65 my Mom is still concerned about her father, who is 90! If you have other insights from your own personal experience, please share them.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Falling off the radar into the gray zone of family care

Off the radar...down a well...I can't even locate my metaphor right now. I've been hit by a family crisis and I had to drop everything else on Friday to drive up to see my father in the hospital. He had scheduled surgery that turned out to be more complicated than expected.

So all through the 335 mile drive up to Baltimore, I thought about the terror of not knowing what I situation I'd be faced with when I arrived. It's complicated. I don't want to go into my family's personal lives, but I am telling you about my situation because as adult children, our parents' crises as they get older can have a huge impact on our lives.

There are some golden times in life when all is well, and it is easy to feel like those times will last forever. We can get complacent and sit back when we should be working to secure the future. I had always suspected there was a "before and after" moment that each of us experiences, that propels us into the adult responsibility of dealing with crisis--not a happy "crisis" like the birth of a healthy baby, bringing a little trickster into our lives, but the sad reality of a family member falling ill of dying.

I am starting to think of life as cyclical, more than linear, akin to the boom and bust cycles of a volatile stock market. This applies especially to our ability to work. Kids = crisis (hopefully a good one but certainly setting us on a new path)....then the kids go to day care or school and you can work again. Then parents and in-laws start getting ill or dying. This creates a new kind of emotionally draining, disruptive crisis. This is not a complaint but an observation, one that is important to keep in perspective as we plan our work lives. If you have a goal and are experiencing a stable period in life, then don't waste your opportunity to get started on your plans. This is the time to act! It is also the time to nurture and fortify your support network of friends and family so that when you need help down the road, they can be there for you.

2006 was my before and after year. At the beginning of the year my husband and I had five parents between us, in fairly stable situations. By the end of the year one had passed away and the others all had significant crises to deal with. I am grateful that I am a mother. This is the only life experience that has prepared me to be an adult in the face of a crisis. Perhaps if I had not had a child by now, something else in my 38 years of life would have come up to prepare me, or maybe this would be my time to learn. But the sweet joy and intense work of caring for a baby, learning what it feels like to love as a parent, taught me perspective that shook me out of my youthfully narcissistic view of my own parents. I can see them more clearly, and accept them as they are. This is a true gift. I appreciate what they have done for me, and realize that I cannot control their lives. I can offer support but I cannot fix everything. I have had to discern what is my responsibility and what is not--hard for someone who in fuzzier moments feels like It's all my responsibility!

I hope this perspective puts some teeth into my advice to take very good care of yourself. It is not "selfish" to recharge your batteries, it is self-preservation and regeneration. Moms and Dads are first responders, for crises of all kinds.

Last night after leaving the hospital I drove to the nearby mall to find dinner. They had a Sharper Image store and I stopped by to sit in their $4000 massage chair for a few minutes. I've never been more grateful for this silly store! After a day sitting in a hospital chair I really appreciated the faux-shiatsu massage. Dinner was doomed to be mediocre, so of the fast-food options, I chose Subway as the least worst option. Sitting in the food court, eating my hoagie, I felt like a soggy piece of cheese in the middle of a quadruple-decker generational sandwich.

But I do know I'll we'll get through this. I wonder and worry more about families who don't have a functioning support network, enough security to take off work, or to go into the hospital with insurance, to leave their children in the capable hands of an extremely competent spouse, and all the other strands of a safety net.

Any advice out there from readers who have gone through a crisis? Is the problem of elder care the looming crisis it looks like to me? Will we be prepared, and if not, how can we start talking about it now? This is a topic for a longer discussion at another time. I feel like we're being sold "Sixty and Sexy" as the norm by our Baby Boomer-centric culture, yet my parents are only 5 years older than that and we've begun to see the flip side of that rosy picture.