I recently returned from spending a few days around Lake Tahoe, playing in the snow and visiting with old and new friends. As a reformed east-coaster I tend to be fairly anti-snow, and in general I am anti-gear, so when my friends decided that we would all go up there for our annual gathering, my initial response (which I kept to myself) was kind of negative. My first view of the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains produced a sudden mood shift; being up there and experiencing that winter beauty really was worth the drive and traffic and cumulative hours of putting on and taking off snow gear for myself and my kids. Friends came from Italy, and their fresh look at the Tahoe area reminded me of its incredibly special combination of beauty, unspoiled ruggedness, and accessibility. I'm thankful for the reminder, for the time to experience it, and for the opportunity to overcome my habits and preconceptions. Not a bad way to start the year.
As always, this newsletter announces a new Panic-free Estate Planning Workshop schedule. If a Will is on your new year's resolution list, this is the chance. To register online, or for more information, go to:
This is also the link to share - if you are so inclined - with friends, school groups, and anyone that you think might need this work. I'd certainly appreciate it! If you are a past workshop attendee, you may want to let others know how good it feels to get it done.
And before I get into my annual new year's musings, a few things about taxes:
I've spoken to many of you about the changes to the estate and gift tax regime that were scheduled to take effect January 1 of this year. When Congress passed its fiscal cliff avoidance legislation at the 11th hour, certain aspects of the estate and gift tax laws were revised - or, rather, the changes that were set to go into effect were avoided by essentially making the 2012 law permanent. You can read a summary discussion of these laws here (it is not my writing but why reinvent the wheel, right?) A big bottom line is that the gift and estate tax exemption did not go down to $1 million but instead will stay at 2012's $5 million level, which is indexed for inflation and for 2013 is $5.25 million. As a result, many of the more sophisticated estate planning techniques I've been discussing are not as critical for many of you. Please call or email if you want to discuss any of this with me.
As 2012 came to a close and I began looking toward 2013, I found myself thinking about work. Of course I was thinking about my own work, nothing short of strong sedatives can stop that when you are self-employed. But in a larger sense, I was thinking about this whole notion of what we do with our lives, how we support and sustain ourselves and what adds or contributes value to us, our bank accounts and our community.
Driving this thinking was, undoubtedly, the decision that my husband and I made in September to close the beloved Four Star Video, which we owned, and expand our other store, Succulence. I wrote a long and labored explanation of our thoughts and what we went through in deciding to close the store - you can read that here. The bottom line, not surprisingly, is simply that the store was not sustainable. Yet the lack of economic viability of the operation stood in stark contrast to the value to many of the store and of the experience of walking down the street to rent movies. How could it be that something that is loved so dearly - and "so dearly" really doesn't begin to convey the awesomeness of Four Star Video or the magnitude of the feeling of loss for so many in the neighborhood - did not have a corresponding economic value? How does that nexus work exactly?
Obviously this is a huge question, and the only thing that seems clear is that that nexus is shifting dramatically right now. As the (former) owner of a video store, I have been in the thick of this shift for years and while I talk about it and try to make sense of it, I've concluded that we simply can't know or understand how it is all going to end up.
The aftermath of closing the video store and seeing my personal life reflect these larger changes in the world and contemplating the confusing nature of value in this modern world has been eye-opening as much as it has been unsettling and disappointing. Value, in the economic sense, does not convey true worth. And what of the people whose jobs and livelihoods are wrapped up in these obsolete industries?
Somehow I keep coming back to what child-development pioneer Maria Montessori observed: "Play is the child's work."
By this, Montessori meant that play is essential to the number one job of every child: the development and creation of self. Giving play this moniker of "work" for Montessori was in part out of respect for the child who is engaged in this fundamental job of self-creation. I've seen other ways we can learn a lot about ourselves and our needs from what we say about child-development. Really, when you think about it, doesn't it make sense that it would work cumulatively? Instead of seeing the various stages of emotional and psychological growth of children as milestones reached and then passed, a more accurate view is of child development as a series of lessons learned that we call upon every day. For example: 'I am not the center of the universe,' or 'certain actions produce a reaction,' or 'my actions impact others.' Indeed, often we spend our whole lives relearning these childhood lessons again and again.
With play, many say, the child experiences and experiments with new rules, imagines what might be instead of what is, and learns problem solving skills and to consider the needs of others. So far totally relevant to leading a fulfilled adult life, right? So maybe, I've been wondering, does Montessori's observation somehow go in the other direction? If play is the child's work, then is work the adult's play? Or, rather, is our own adult work something that should be treated as equally essential to the ongoing development and creation of self?
Of course at this point, "work" can't simply mean what we do for money. Most of us have to earn money to live, and for many of us the realities of our lives do constrain us and force us to compromise what we want to do with our time and to instead accept what we have to do, sometimes greatly.
Montessori herself described work (generally, not just with respect to children) as "purposeful activity" and identified it as universal, innate, and essential to how we interact with and create the world around us. In other words: finding something to do, something that has a goal or objective, orients you in space and helps you know who you are. Gratifying work, be it a job or hobby or raising your children or the combination of it all, engages us, connects us and defines us. For most of my life, I haven't really questioned that my job-work should be my life's work. But my life has never accommodated that level of singularity, and, really, I don't think that is the way the world operates anymore for most people. I've begun, instead, to see my whole life as a body of work - the disparate pieces of travel and projects and jobs and homes and community, coming together to form this increasingly complete and whole self. Seeing these non-job pieces as my "work" takes some pressure off of my job to be the be as gratifying as I want my life to be. It reminds me of how critical the other components are to my happiness and well-being. While I still must fit things in between my hours at the office, I feel a slipping away of the internal hierarchy of what makes money and what doesn't.
Regardless of whether your job is your life's calling, or you are stuck in something soul-sucking, you are a stay at home parent, or you have been looking for a job for months, there is work to be done. There are roads to be built and rebuilt, babies to be tended, dust to be swept, laughter to be laughed, food to be cooked, fires to be built, fun to be had, sick to be healed, packages to be delivered, food to be served, music to be made, waves to be surfed, trees to be pruned, problems to be solved. And so on. This is all work.
I wish for all of you good work in 2013. I hope you can find (or see right before you) your combination of purpose and activity that lets you know who you are, where you are, and how you fit in. This work is essential to the ongoing development and creation of self, which, from my perspective, is a life-long activity.
As in years past, I've got a new Panic-Free Estate Planning Workshop Schedule posted and a few other things to say. If you want to read on, please do. If you are interested in attending a Workshop, sign up now! I’ve got dates set through May, 2012, but these fill up quickly. As always, your help spreading the word about my workshops and other services is invaluable and so appreciated; if you are so inclined, please do forward this email or information about my practice.
I have been struggling for weeks to articulate what I want to say about this past year and what I want to manifest in this new one. While I'm not entirely at a loss, things do not seem clear and cohesive as they have in the past. Beyond the common urge to do some 'out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new' type analysis, I have tethered my law practice to this moment: I've sent this New Year's email out now for four years in a row. This does add some pressure to the endeavor, for sure, but, more than that, I look for a new beginning and clear perspective for a community beyond myself and my immediate family.
Last year at this time I was kind of a wreck. My mantra for December, 2010, had been to "just get through it," with the "it" being a period of intensely hard work, and delayed gratification in realizing the fruits of so much effort. In order to just barrel through, I had to shift certain challenges and problems to the back burner, where they waited for my attention, simmering, until the end of the holidays.
The new year did not, in fact, bring the clarity, focus, and facile decision-making I'd been expecting. Instead, the hard work continued, and the deferred maintenance of 2010 simply continued into the next year, only without an excuse to get through some period of time before having to figure out what to do.
A year ago, as I sat in a state of confusion, I called upon myself and the world at large to be honest. In that spirit, I did what any self-respecting, American child of the 1970's should do and I went into therapy. Perhaps this information is too personal to reveal? I'm sorry if you think so, but I do believe that mental and emotional health - more specifically mental and emotional healthcare - are as universally important as cardiovascular exercise or good dental hygiene. There should be as much secrecy and embarrassment around therapy as there is around getting your teeth cleaned, which is to say, none, necessarily.
I won't go into the gory details of my own personal work, but I will say this: for me, it all came back to being present with myself and my life. The decisions did not make themselves, nor did any answers reveal themselves, as a result of my being in therapy. However, I did (re)learn to trust myself, give voice to my feelings when they came about, and to just be able to be with whatever confusion and pain arose, especially when there was no immediate solution. I also (re)learned the importance of finding those things - tasks, rituals, endeavors, processes - that reconnect me to myself and to the moment, that take me out of the restlessness of my worries and stresses, and that allow me to enjoy the good that is and to feel the strength of my own self.
Where does this find me now? Not so clear, not so knowing, not so decided, but - BUT - definitely oriented in space. The work of this past year, in therapy, in getting through my own health scare, in maintaining healthy boundaries during my own family struggles, in nourishing myself, my marriage and my children, has, I feel, turned me to face the right path. I'm really not sure whether it is that my direction is now clear, or that I am now a little more able to bring the rest of my body and mind in alignment with where I am facing and walking. I'm not really sure there is a significant difference.
As it turns out, being present does seem to be the larger theme at work. This is true for my friend with a stunningly successful design business and heart-breakingly unsuccessful efforts to get pregnant. This is true for my relative whose declining mother and drug-addled brother are somehow collaborating to erase any small amounts of dignity and affection within that nuclear family. This is true for my newly divorced and newly widowed friends (more of them than I would like) who try to find hope and peace after losing those which were promised and reliable. All of these people have discovered, and rediscovered, the power and salvation of simply being present in the moment.
So I wish this for all of you in 2012 and beyond: that you are able to be here now. For brief moments, from time to time. Whether you connect through music or yoga or cooking or climbing mountains or playing cards or jogging or smelling roses or pruning roses or drinking beer. Whether you believe in the after-life or not. Whether the life around you is filled with ordinary or extraordinary loss and pain. May you recognize that this time in this life is an opportunity like no other.
A few weeks into January, life is kind of back to normal after being in December suspension, which I find both blissful and bizarre. What I love about this time of year is that we're all still exchanging good wishes and thinking about the bigger picture. Lets keep it up!
Spoiler alert: I'm going to wax on philosophically for a few paragraphs, but there is some business-ier type informationbelow (including the announcement of my new Panic-Free Planning Workshop schedule!), so scroll down if you want to cut to the chase. However, I do recommend - here and in general - slowing down and enjoying the ride.
I'm not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I do completely believe in the powers of setting intentions and of creative visualization. In particular, with the beginning of a calendar year, I end up thinking about what the new year offers by way of opportunity, and what I want to give to it by way of energy and work.
As I've been contemplating this coming year, a few themes have been swirling around in my brain. Some of these, it now is clear, deserve their own writing. And I certainly intend to be doing a lot more writing in 2011.
The thing that is biggest on my mind, and that is erupting around me it seems, is the importance of honesty. The lesson learned and relearned is that being honest - with yourself as well as with others, in your thoughts, speech and action - leads to a simpler and easier life.
I myself really do not have the time or resources to mess around with this one anymore. I have too much good work to do, and too little time in which to do it. For my path to be free of unnecessary obstacles - physical, psychological, emotional - I believe I must begin by telling it like it is, saying how I mean it, and accepting things and people for what they are.
Incidentally, I don't think our country or our planet has the time or resources to waste, either. It is time to get real. We are where we are, people, and we have to deal with it.
Of course we'll have differing opinions of how to accomplish goals and tackle these huge and hugely complicated problems facing our country and our world and our relationships. But we must begin with an honest recognition of what is, on all levels.
I put the call to honesty to all of us, but in a big way to politicians, the media, and advertisers who base their lives and careers upon telling people what they want to hear, or at least what they think people want to hear.
Almost more importantly, I also put that same call to us all to demand - and then listen to - an honest message, to not get lost in expectations of more, and to not let anyone get away with less. This is where I think we must work and put our energy this year. Lets go.
OK, on to the business:
The estate and gift tax madness continues with new legislation that raises exemption amounts and decreases tax rates, although the law that passed is only good for two years, maintaining the uncertainty that has existed for the past year. For those of you involved with administering the estate of someone who died in 2010, we'll certainly be talking about this - you have the choice of electing to be subject to the estate tax or not (though that is not as simple or as exclusively positive as it sounds). For those of you contemplating gifts to children or other loved ones, you now have more opportunity to make gifts without realizing any immediate tax consequences. If you are interested in any aspect of the new (and currently short-term) tax laws, call or email. I am happy to discuss your questions or send you toward resources if you want to read up on this.
Also, my Panic-free Planning Workshop schedule for the Winter/Spring is posted and ready for your registration. These Workshops continue to be a source of so much goodness, and I am continuously happy to see how they enable people to get something in place who otherwise might not tackle this difficult and existential project we call estate planning.
Lastly, I want to formally announce that the fabulous Deidra De Pree has joined my practice as my assistant/office manager/jack-of-all-random tasks. Some of you have experienced Deidra’s sunny smile and calming presence as you've come through my office. Deidra has been invaluable in helping me get my work done better, more efficiently, and with fewer distractions. She's an interesting and cool person, to boot, spending her time not in the office growing food on her friend's small suburban farm and constantly experimenting in cooking and life. Welcome Deidra! And thank you!
Above all, I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to do work I love, and to be honored and humbled by your trust and confidences. Thank you.
It has been quite a whirlwind around here. My daughter graduated from preschool! My first-born celebrated his 9th birthday! I turned 40! My family and I have enjoyed such a bounty of loving family and friends, of good health and good weather, and of incredible community. I barely have words to express my gratitude.
Having gotten through all of these big family and life events, it feels like summer is finally underway. This weekend, my husband, Ken, and I are flying to Chicago for a wedding and mini-vacation. Thanks to my mom, we are going without our kids; this will be the first time we've flown on an airplane together without them. It is nerve-wracking!
I've updated our own estate plan in anticipation of this trip. Having our documents in place and up-to-date does not remove the fearsomeness of air travel, but it does take the edge off.
Knowing that many of you are facing similar travel worries, I've created a summer schedule of Panic-free Estate Planning Workshops. The first one is on Saturday, June 26, at Recess Urban Recreation. I know this date is fast-approaching, but there is still plenty of time to sign up and GET THIS DONE. The Workshops are really that easy! There's a bit of homework and thinking to do before hand, but mostly you simply need to show up and do it. If you don't believe me, read my testimonials.
If you can't attend any of the dates this summer, in August I will be posting and circulating a schedule for the fall, so stay tuned. If you've already attended a Workshop (or even if you haven't) and you know people who you think might be interested in these unusual and even enjoyable events, please forward this information along to them.
With tremendous gratitude and best wishes for a wonderful (and panic-free) summer,
In a step fairly out of character, but one certainly motivated by a desire to mitigate the shame and hurt feelings suffered by our children at the hands of our anti-authoritarian and outsider tendencies, after dinner last night we cleared the table, pulled out the supplies and helped our kids make valentine's day cards for all of their classmates.
This was really Ken's doing. The whole valentine's day cards issue had come up when I was hanging out with the kids a week ago. Trudy, now officially and actually 5, had spent the day in school decorating a large envelope that would hang on the wall along with envelopes decorated by each of her classmates. The envelopes are there to receive valentine's day cards. There are official preschool rules about the holiday, and the wonderful, experienced people who run the school are clear that participation is not mandatory. I always take those invitations way too literally, so often just don't participate in such events. I'm frequently the one who really does not bring a birthday present when asked not to. I'm also the one who responds honestly, though usually with what I consider to be constructive criticism, when a waiter asks, "How is everything?" I hold people to their words - so if you tell me no presents, you better mean it. Same for asking me what I think - you should really want to know.
Huck, my third grader, jumped in on the game, and stated that he wanted to make cards for all the kids in his class. I think he's really interested in the candy that people are going to hand out (not us - see above). I told the kids that this year they could not count on me for help with this one. If they wanted to make valentine's day cards for everyone, they were going to have to motivate themselves. I'm absurdly busy, and will remain that way until I fully integrate an assistant into my law practice. Plus, we're getting a new business off the ground! Double plus, my choir is singing NoisePop and I'm trying to rehearse. Not to mention laundry, of course.
Ken, bless his soul, responded with a determined affirmation a few days later when he was a part of a similar conversation with the kids: we will send our children to school with valentine's day cards for a collective 50 children. We have to do right by them.
There are certain expectations of kids and parents that I really resent. I'll supervise homework and make stupendous snacks and wash cars for fundraisers, but the holiday thing makes me batty. My memory of the holiday celebrations of my childhood - at least when it came to how we celebrated them in school - is that it was all much more organic and much lower key. I don't remember feeling a compulsion to do whatever for every kid in my class on each and every holiday. My sense, looking back, is that some of us pulled it together for valentine's day while others of us managed to get some easter candy to distribute and then there were always folks left to do St. Patrick's day duty and bring in clover shaped butter cookies with green sugar on top.
Of course, I wasn't the one who had to motivate or organize, so I'm sure -- I imagine -- all that holiday obligation stuff was fairly irritating to my parents too. It might seem by now that I have some kind of holiday chip on my shoulder, and I do. I love to celebrate and ritualize things. I think birthdays are great - you really know why you are celebrating what you are celebrating. The rest of it (it being all holidays) seems so overdone and, as a result, diluted. The special food that used to only be available on such-and-such holiday, is now available year round. The particular joyful experience of trick or treating and getting halloween candy seems corrupted - the quantity is beyond excessive and the quality of the experience suffers as a result. In our country everything is available 24-7, and at this point there isn't anything you can't do, even on the most sacred of holidays, Christmas: Walgreens and Safeway are open for hours. In particular, I hate the pressure my kids experience around holidays, and I hate the fact that often they have no connection to these holidays other than for the sugar or other loot. Going through the motions is not in my skill set.
Ironically, and, ultimately, poetically, valentine's day is one of the few holidays for which I have an actual family tradition. My family experience growing up was fundamentally safe and loving, but it was a bit fractured and distracted. There were elements of tradition in many holidays, things we did from year to year: I made the mashed potatoes at thanksgiving from age 8 until probably 16 or so; we made latkes for hanukah; and when my dad and stepmother were together there was the cozy joy of christmas morning at their lovely house - lots of hot coffee and usually bacon and other rich morning treats that came after withstanding weird slow present opening where we all held back and pretended not to care that much. Oh yeah, and then there was the dance around mother's day where my mom said she didn't really care about it but then ended up getting upset, always. For a few years I really carried this tradition out with my own family until I discovered that the best thing to do on mother's day was to remove myself from society to the greatest possible extent.
Valentine's day was different. For years my mom made epically wonderful cards for us. Really the thing was the writing - often 24 lines or more of poetry proclaiming her love and appreciation for each of us and our unique qualities. The poems, written usually on the newsprint favored by my mom, were surrounded by potato print hearts. Even when I became an adult, my mom wrote these poems and made potato prints and sent them to me. She even sent some to my husband in the first 5 or 6 years of our marriage. Sometimes the poems were short and sweet, but there were always - ALWAYS - potato prints. My mom didn't pull out the domestic whoop-ass very often but she killed it on valentine's day.
So here I am, irritated by holidays in general, irritated by holidays in school in particular, but being rallied by my equally overworked husband to help the kids make valentine's day cards. Am I totally evil? No! I got behind it. And I was able to get behind it precisely because of the valentine's day card tradition that I could really call upon: we'll make potato prints of course! The one thing I can do with my kids that DOES actually mean something to me on this, another, absurdly commercialized holiday.
As it often goes, my kids had other plans. Huck had a vision of layered hearts glued together, so he and Ken started cutting and pasting. Trudy enjoyed making potato prints for a while. We made a few really nice heart-shaped potato printers despite the fact that I had used all but one of the potatoes to make soup for dinner - didn't really think that one through. But then she wanted to do what her brother was doing (they did look pretty cool) and I was unable to talk her out of discontinuing to print with me.
Poetically, and ironically, while Trudy got involved with intricate drawings on two cards and spent a good deal of time talking Ken into cutting out lots of hearts for her so that she could do exactly what her big brother was doing, I ended up making 40 half-assed potato prints on a combination of cool joss paper I had and some blank index cards.
Hats off to Ken: the kids have valentine's day cards to distribute. They will not be humiliated and feel left out of yet another holiday celebration.
Also, it was quite nice sitting around the kitchen table doing an art project together, my bad attitude and Trudy's whining indecision notwithstanding. The thing I most love about that kind of project time with my kids is the way conversation flows and they talk freely about the random thoughts that bubble up while you are working with your hands.
In the middle of it, Huck told us, "Today I said something that made people in my class think I wasn't that smart." Puzzled (because Huck has a bit of a braniac reputation, complete with shirt chewing and other neurotic behaviors associated with the very intellectual) we asked him what he said.
"I told some kids in my class that God does not exist. And then I told them that Jesus isn't the son of God, and Santa doesn't exist, and the Easter Bunny doesn't exist either."
Ken and I were now listening quite attentively.
I don't know what they'd been talking about when Huck jumped in on the conversation, but when Huck the Heretic spoke up, the other kids pulled out all the stops, telling Huck he was wrong, presenting other proof of God's existence as they saw it, and finally asking Huck how can God NOT exist when God created HIM, Huckleberry Maceo Shelf.
For better or worse, Huck responded to his classmates by talking about evolution, not reproduction. Not sure which would have made him and us less popular among his classmates and their parents, but that is how it rolled. This is the point at which one kid told him that he was not actually smart, thus playing out the centuries old disrespectful dialogue between religious believers and practitioners of science.
Ken and I were laughing and cringing and proud and worried. We talked about how religion and science are often at odds with one another, and even different religious beliefs conflict, although for the most part religious believers hold their truths to be true. The fundamental message we tried to get across was the importance of treating others and their beliefs about the unknown with respect, even if they believe in something that seems patently ridiculous to you, and even if they are dissing you to your face.
Huck seemed to grock this message, and, in the end, it turns out he DOES believe in God - or, technically, GODS - he's down with Zeus and the other Olympian deities.
Really, I'm proud of my son for his ability to speak his mind and state his beliefs, even when he is up against a homogeneous group and in the minority. That is one family tradition we've created, and, hopefully, one that our kids keep going when they have families of their own.
I don't usually toot my own professional horn on this web log very much, or really even talk about my work at all, but I had to share this message I recently received from a client - she copied me on an email she sent to a bunch of her friends. This client attended one of my Panic-free Planning Workshops and had some wonderful things to say about it. I'm grateful for the recommendation, of course. Also I think her words - born of experience - convey the message perfectly. Thank you, lovely client. I imagine your friends thank you, too.
"I have talked to some of you about this, so I thought I would pass the info on to everyone! I know that no one wants to talk about death and dying, especially as new parents. But it may just be the biggest gift you can give to your child and your family when the inevitable occurs. My father died unexpectantly when I was a teenager and more recently we have had to deal with an elderly family member who died without a will, so I speak from experience that writing a will, financial power of attorney and healthcare directive is of the utmost importance. I recently took a workshop with attorney Amy Shelf. She is an estate lawyer who has created these workshops to help get the basics in place. Once they are in place, she can help to get your whole estate in order. Amy has made this uncomfortable, difficult and challenging task easy and accessible. She offers "Panic Free Workshops" in a group setting in which the purpose is to ease you through the process. You leave the workshop with all three documents complete and a feeling that you have tackled a difficult thing, successfully. http://www.amyshelf.com/workshops.html Amy is not only knowledgable about the law, she understands how difficult this topic is for parents and non-parents and with humor and compassion walks you through the entire process.
I can HIGHLY recommend her workshops and hope this inspires you to move this very important to-do to the top of your list."
I suppose I need to start by telling you that my family does not celebrate Christmas. We are Jewish, yes, though not practicing, really. In one respect, all Jews can be divided between two groups - those who celebrate Christmas and those who do not. I grew up celebrating at my Dad's; my husband, Ken, didn't celebrate it at all. Nuanced aspects of our decision aside, we don't celebrate Christmas now.
We do celebrate a few Jewish holidays, and Chanukah is now one of them. Before we had kids, we didn't really pay much mind to the festival of lights. Our inability to schedule a Chanukah get-together with Ken's family, who all live nearby, inspired the self-styled, gift-giving holiday we do celebrate: Gift-X. But that is another story.
Enter kids into our lives, who turn into frustrated and disappointed kids because they are not in on the Christmas experience. So enter Chanukah, and, from time-to-time, service and volunteer activities on Christmas day, which is really the best thing any of us can do.
When we started celebrating Chanukah, we had to then address the present issue. Really, the best part about not celebrating Christmas (other than the self-righteous martyrdom in which we get to wallow) is not having to participate in the consumer frenzy of December. We have tried to minimize the gift-giving element of Chanukah. The motivation is two-fold: we want to retain our status as conscientious objectors to consumerism - mostly for our own stress levels, and our kids do not need more crap - er, stuff. Plus, Chanukah is really a war holiday anyway.
A few years ago we started giving the kids home-style gift certificates. Along the lines of "When Mama and Papa decide to go out to dinner you get to pick where we go," and, "You get to make the whole family go out for ice cream and Mama and Papa can't say no." The kids are sometimes a bit disappointed that there's no toy or thing on that particular night of Chanukah, but they've come to accept that some nights will be certificate nights, and that is just part of the deal. The kids also cope by muttering things to themselves about getting 8 nights to Christmas's 1. Standard.
Each certificate comes with rules, written and unwritten, and that's where the Spinach Incident comes in.
Trudy, my nearly 5 year old, announced before dinner last night that she was using her ice cream certificate, and we were all going out for ice cream after dinner. Dinner that night consisted of rice and beans with cheese, and sauteed spinach.
Kids are so weird about vegetables. My kids, like so many others I know, ate vegetables heartily and indiscriminately until they were 2 or 3. This is the age when parallel play usually tapers off and kids start paying more attention to what other kids do and say. Maybe the vegetable animosity is learned behavior, maybe it is a vestige of a Darwinian aversion to plants as they become more mobile and independent: you can't poison yourself by eating the wrong plant if you don't eat plants at all. Most likely is that it is a cyclical interaction of the two. Regardless, I'm a firm believer in making my kids eat some plant matter with most meals. It is a non-negotiable rule in our house, and hopefully the habit will become so rooted in their psyches and behavior patters that they will eat some nutritious food in their first years of college.
Not surprisingly, eating a good dinner, including that evening's vegetables, is an unwritten prerequisite for the kids to be allowed to use their ice cream certificates.
Trudy refused to eat her spinach last night. At other times, Trudy has proclaimed that she loves spinach. Both kids usually have some list of veggies that they'll eat willingly or enthusiastically, and apparently that changes without notice.
Last night's spinach - lightly sauteed with a bit of olive oil and garlic, fresh from our CSA farm - was sweet and tender. Huck, Trudy's older brother, was also being a bit of a spaz about the spinach - maybe he set the whole thing off - but, he is older, wiser, and really committed to sugar consumption, so he begrudgingly ate his greens. By his last bite he had almost forgotten to maintain his repulsed expression.
We made it clear that Trudy was going to have to eat her spinach if we were going to go out for ice cream. She panicked. Got kind of hysterical. Was nearly hyperventilating, almost. While we are pretty damn good about sticking to our guns and following through on the rules we set down, we did give her quite a few opportunities to follow the righteous path. We offered to feed her. We set the spinach out into four discrete bites. I even went so far as to chop the spinach up after Trudy insisted that she could not chew it - at that point she'd been simultaneously crying and attempting to chew the spinach without it touching her tongue.
Before we made the call that ice cream was not happening that evening, there were a few exasperated threats. We were both coming to terms with the fact that we weren't getting ice cream either, and poor Huck, who had eaten his spinach, was wimpering on the couch, pleading with his head-strong and misguided sister. (Don't worry, he secretly got a chocolate-covered mint a little later in the evening.)
The final verdict of NO ICE CREAM was announced, and Trudy took to her bed and cried. I felt for her, we all did. I have memories, somewhat fragmented, of being a child unable to swallow a bite of butternut squash, or crying and crying while kind of knowing somewhere deep in my developing brain that I was taking the longer, more difficult path.
As the spinach was transforming into the Spinach Incident I had a few moments of questioning my parenting decision. Was I turning food into a power-play? Was I setting the stage for an eating disorder or rebellious teen behavior or both? Was I being overly punitive? Maybe, but I don't think so.
Trudy cried in bed for a while. I spent a lot of the time with her, stroking her hair, feeling and being sympathetic. She was obviously out of control, because any logical person would have eaten the damn spinach and been halfway through a strawberry cone at that point. Being that out of control feels terrible, even worse than not getting ice cream when you want it.
So here we are: 2010! What a year this has been. 2009. What. A. Year. To the extent you have made it through 2009 without completely freaking out and falling apart, you deserve kudos. I know that many of you reading this have experienced your own struggles and losses this year. And even for those of you who have not personally and directly felt the effects of the financial, ecological and political instability of our time, it is in the air and is flavoring life, exposing, and even emphasizing, the ever-present uncertainty of the future.
This is the third year in a row that I've sent a message to my community in early January - I guess that makes it a tradition! As much as I love to fill this space with discussions of the coming year and the larger issues that interest me, this message is fundamentally for marketing purposes and my rant this year has gotten a little long. So I'll let you click the hyperlink to read my full explanation of how I see 2010 as The Year of Generosity. For more buzz about my law practice, please read on.
First of all, I want to send a big thank you to my clients. You are the best! Really, I could not ask for nicer and more wonderful people to walk through my door. I am honored to have you place your trust in me. I am not just talking about your faith in my technical skills as a lawyer, but I also mean the way you open your lives and hearts to me as we discuss our often difficult and emotional work. This moves me and inspires me, and, more and more, becomes the thing that calls me out of bed each morning. Thank you so much.
My Panic-Free Planning Workshops continue to receive lots of enthusiasm and great feedback - they are an easy, and even enjoyable, way to get the basics in place for a great price. All you need to do is a little bit of prep and attend a two hour workshop, and then you'll have a basic Will, Power of Attorney and Advance Health Care Directive in place. I've got a full Winter/Spring schedule for my Workshops on my website.
Another very exciting development is that I'm partnering with the folks at Recess Urban Recreation (a fabulous, indoor rec center for young kids and their caretakers). I'm offering two of my Panic-Free Planning Workshops (January 23 and April 24) at Recess, where I can accommodate much larger groups. Also, Recess is hosting a few free presentations I'll be doing about Estate Planning, so sign up for their mailing list and watch their calendar.
Remember, advance registration is required for all Workshops, so just pick a date and sign up online! Believe me, you'll feel so much better when its done.
Increasingly often I hear from friends and neighbors that they've seen my name recommended on local parenting email lists, or that they've recommended me themselves. It means so much to me that you think highly enough of me and my work to send other people my way. Your recommendations are also my lifeline: almost all of my business comes through word-of-mouth referrals. So, thank you for sharing my name, and please continue doing so. And do forward this post to anyone you know who might want or need my services.
Last year at this time, I wrote about hard work and fortitude. I have certainly had a very, very hardworking year, and I know I'm not alone. And there is, without a doubt, much work to be done. In addition to the great, global to-do list, many things in my own life require constant work and attention. My husband and I, along with two business partners, have just opened a new shop, Succulence. It is a hidden gem: Succulence can be found by going through our other business, Four Star Video. Once out back you will find yourself in a sheltered oasis of Succulent Living. If running one new business and two going concerns wasn't enough, there's also the day-to-day tasks of raising our kids, being involved with schools and community, and occasionally (though not often enough) doing laundry. Lots of work.
In addition to my vision of hard work for last year, I also felt much promise in the beginning of 2009. Opportunity for growth and, yes, change. Analyzing the ways in which our worlds and lives have grown and changed is always a challenge. Often transformation is accompanied by an amnesia of sorts; it is difficult to remember just what life was like before. I can barely remember what my husband was like at 23, when we met; my vague memories of my children as babies seem almost disconnected from who they are now, and it is a struggle to put myself in the place of someone who has never seen a person of color elected President of the United States.
In looking forward, and thinking of what I not only want to create this year but also what I want to wish for others, I keep coming back to the idea of generosity, and a deep conviction that it is going to be critical to our overall health and survival as communities and as a society.
With shrinking resources - financial, natural, and otherwise - often the urge and tendency is to grip tightly to that which we do have. I guard my free evenings, I panic about my credit card balance, and I want to protect that which I already own. Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, I think that instead of giving in to the impulse to be proprietary, now is the time to give more.
Meditating on generosity, I am reminded of a short story I read once about a woman who gets married and moves to her new husband's home in a rural, mountainous place. During the winter. She, the protagonist, is a city girl, a professional, and she is not comfortable in the solitude of the wild. She is terrified of what she cannot do or accomplish on her own out in the snowy mountains.
When the story begins there are news reports of a dangerous man on the loose. Maybe he has escaped from prison or a mental institution or something. I don't remember the specifics, but this unknown menace is woven into the storyline and psyche of the main character.
The narrative climaxes when she is home alone and looks out the window to see a man come toward her house from the woods. He is obviously in need - perhaps injured or simply dangerously cold and deliriously hungry. The main character is terrified of this stranger, and she is so consumed by her own vulnerability that she ignores his signs of distress, his knock on her door, and his calls for help.
It turns out that the man who came down from the mountains was not a threat, and our protagonist had broken one of the cardinal rules of rural living: you always help those in need. Makes sense, when you think of it - when people live so far from each other and from the conveniences and protections of civilization, some version of the golden rule must govern their interactions: give help unto others as you hope beyond hope they would help you if you needed it.
A rule like this, of living and helping generously, seems critical at this moment in history. But my vision of a generous way of living is not just about money. Obviously, the nonprofits and the needy are desperate for cold hard cash, and let us reach deep into our pockets for that kind of giving for sure. The generosity I'm thinking of, however, extends farther than gifts of money, and is a whole attitude about the resources we each possess and how they can be shared.
Like we all have different skills, we all have different resources. Some of us have experience to give, others of us have time, or compassion, or love, or power tools. Some of us have money, so let us give it or lend it. Let us also share our things. Our hearts. Our time. Our tables. Let us give what we can to those who need us. A parent, a sibling, a stranger. When others ask to use what is ours, let us all say yes.
We've all heard much recently, perhaps too much, about the psychology of economics and financial activity. The credit crunch is fundamentally the result of a deep lack of confidence and trust, not just a shortage of resources. In some oversimplified way it seems that overall economic health is akin to us all holding hands at the edge of the pool and agreeing that we'll jump in together.
So where will this giving and sharing get us? By giving money we can provide an obvious kind of assistance. But by giving and sharing other resources . . . well, we might actually be building trust and community. Imagine the power of saying yes, sure, have some, take mine. Imagine the power of hearing those things.
One thing that the last year has shown is the unpredictability of bad fortune. The neighbor who seemed to have it all? Lost her job and then her house. The friend with the ideal marriage? Maybe he's not so happy right now. With financial instability, the pressures on our relationships and friendships mount. We must stay committed to keeping each other from falling through the cracks. Not just the socio-economic cracks, but the spiritual ones as well.
Open your door and your heart and your wallet to those, known and unknown, who stumble down from the snowy mountains. The more you do, the better the chance that when you are cold and lost a door will open for you.