When Max was in third grade, he told me that he had too many sick days to get into a good college. He said: “The government isn’t going to let me have another chance, unless I figure out a way to reverse the time-space continuum and re-do a couple of tests. And I’m not sure I want to do that.”

My greatest joys and proudest moments in my life have come from being the mother to my two sons. As have my most vulnerable and scared moments. My fired-up-tiger-claws-out-I-will-eat-your-face-if-you-hurt-my-kids-moments. My moments of deepest despair and shame came from the times when I felt like I failed my sons as their mother. I didn’t sign them up for the thing on time. I didn’t sew the patch on the right sleeve. I forgot to bake the class snack and I sent in a pack of Oreos and a side of sorry. I have this thing about the time-space continuum. I usually end up behind it. But I hope I have shown my children through this process that I am imperfect, I am compassionate, I am vulnerable, I am creative, I make mistakes, I fall down, I get back up again, and I’m going to be late.

I am the kind of late where I am trying to do one more thing before I left the place where I was. I’m trying to do a load of laundry. Read and respond to an email. Answer a text from a sad friend and I don’t want them to feel alone. Listen one more time to a song that someone I love shared with me and it makes me think of them.  I’m the kind of late who stayed up the night before reading an amazing new book or transcribing music on my cello or writing a poem or practicing salsa steps. But I promise, I’m not going to be really late. Maybe 5-10 minutes. And I promise. I will be there.  

My son Max – he’s that kind of late, too. Up too late, and in the mornings, during the school year, this meant he showed up to his 8:00 am class often 10, 20, 30 minutes late. At the end of the year, I got a warning letter from the school district letting me know that my son was a truant. My creative, brilliant, son, who gets letters from colleges weekly, who spends his free time playing jazz and busting his ass working as a grocery clerk, who stays up too late because he is trying to do better and be better. Well, according to the school district – he is a truant. But what the district doesn’t mention is that he always shows up. He just shows up late.

In a world that allegedly celebrates creativity and thinking outside the box, the problem is, we are unwilling to relinquish boxes. We crave definitions and certainty. In many ways, I get why we need that. I’m an attorney. I’m a bit of a rule-follower. But I also see, day in and day out, that we forgo the practical because it’s “safer” to cling to a definition and stay in a box. As an example. One of my favorite quotes from “The Breakfast Club” is:

“Brian: I’m a f*in’ idiot because I can’t make a lamp?

Bender: No, you’re a genius because you can’t make a lamp.

Brian: What do you know about Trigonometry?

Bender: I could care less about Trigonometry.

Brian: Bender, did you know without Trigonometry there’d be no engineering?

Bender: Without lamps, there’d be no light.”

When he was in middle school, Max said to me, “Mom, I don’t understand why we take some of the classes that we do. I understand why we take Language Arts and Math and Science. But I don’t know why we take Social Studies. I mean, yesterday we learned that Mayans considered big noses a sign of beauty. When am I ever going to need that in life?” I said, “Max, maybe one day you’ll be at a cocktail party and you’ll see a pretty girl and you’ll need a conversation starter. You’ll walk up to her and say, hello, ladies. Did you know that in the Mayan culture big noses were considered a sign of beauty?” He said, “Yeah, I’d say, hello ladies, did you know that you would be considered beautiful in Mayan culture? Your big nose would actually be a sign of beauty.” Definitions are mutable. Boxes are different sizes. Noses are relative and relevant to faces. It all depends on the lamp and the lighting.  

A friend of mine, who was an NFL football player, once told me, “You’re always a twisted knee away from oblivion.” And – his career ended because of a knee injury. But before that happened, he accomplished amazing goals. And that’s the thing. You can either be diminished by what might happen or other people’s expectations and definitions of you. Or you can keep going and take care of sh*t right now.

No matter where you are, no matter when you get there, you are perfect and exactly right. And if I’m supposed to meet you there, I’ll be a little late. But I promise. I’ll be there.

Keep Going

A few years ago, at camp, Shane and Max were involved in a game called “color wars.” Shane’s team was green and Max’s was blue. The night before Max asked me, “Mom, do we have any blue face paint?” I was really tired and said, “No, we do not and I don’t have time to go get any. You’ll just have to figure something out.” In the morning I heard him and Shane in the bathroom. He was saying to Shane, “Shane, that looks great. Now put more green stripes on your forehead!” I yelled, “Hey, where did you find the face paint?” Max said, “I found some paint in my room and you can use it for regular painting AND for face painting.” I ran into the bathroom and found them there with a tray of acrylic paints and paint brushes. Max had blue stripes on his cheeks and Shane looked like a green Rambo. Shane finally got all the green paint off his face the following morning and Max had blue hands for a week. When I tell my kids to just figure it out, they will. And I am so damn proud of them for that.

I grew up an overachiever. I lived for straight A’s and certificates and accolades. When I had kids, I swore that I would not ever demand that they do the same. Because like any overachiever, I eventually hit the perfectionist wall and froze, in my 20’s. I didn’t know what to do anymore. Because I had never done anything without the approval of someone else, whether it was through a grade, praise, a scholarship, a piece of paper. Obviously, I recovered. But a LOT of therapy, some terrible hairstyles, and rebellious relationships with musicians, had to happen first. I’m probably more of a laid back, hippie kind of mom (my kids say I’m a hippie mom, for the record). But I think, for sure, love and acceptance gets you a lot further towards happiness and a good life than judgment and criticism. And P.S. coming from a lawyer, I have a front row seat to judgment and criticism, every day, and no one is ever happy about it. Also, using my hippie mom method, you may end up with kids with blue and green faces – but it’s temporary, I promise.

When my Max started middle school, he was chubby and shy and a little bruised by the square box intractable systems he kept getting shoved into. But here’s the thing. When beautiful star shaped souls realize that they are not supposed to be in boxes and get their shine on, it’s so amazing to watch. And Max got his shine on.

In 8th grade, Max told me, “Mom, I want to give the speech for my advancement ceremony.” I said, “Okay, what does that mean?” He said, “I have to write an essay and submit it for a contest.” We talked about it for a very long time and about the topic. We finally decided on the topic of failure as being a necessary part of learning to succeed. And he figured it out from there. Not only did Max get selected to give the speech. He was asked to give the speech again as part of a nonprofit presentation, in front of a board of directors and donors.

I am sharing my son Max’s speech, with his permission. I felt like it was important to share because I think, very often, we should remember that we are, each of us, unique and special and shiny. None of us can or should be crammed into boxes. And sometimes, often, love means letting go and letting your loved ones figure it out and paint their own way. Because they will.

Shine on and believe in your damn selves, beautiful star shaped souls. You are special and amazing and the world needs your gifts. Your failures do not define you. They only make you better at what you are meant to do. Keep going. Keep drumming to your own beat.

This I Believe (Max Rosenthal,Copyright 2016)

“Drumming has been my path to confidence. Whenever I feel stressed or angry, my drum set is there to make me feel better. When I need to, I can pop in my earphones, go into the garage, and jam. I have been playing for only 3 years, but in that time I have become fairly proficient. I have not always been confident in my drumming abilities. But after I learned to accept my mistakes, I developed self-assurance in not just my musical skills, but in everyday life. I believe that no one should be afraid of failure.

I had this revelation of self­-confidence toward the beginning of 8th grade year. I practiced my drums everyday playing along to music, but whenever I attempted to solo or even do a small fill, I would hesitate and stop. One day, after I had a particularly difficult drum lesson, my instructor told me that I was a very talented drummer, I just needed to be more confident in myself. I contemplated his words as I sat alone at my drum kit in my empty, dimly lit garage. My head was buried in my hands with my elbows propped up on my snare drum. I had my earphones in and was listening to a playlist of Buddy Rich’s famous drum solos. I was so disappointed and frustrated that I could not play as well as Buddy. The garage was completely silent except the moments I would sporadically break out in anger, throwing my sticks across the room and cursing loudly at myself. I had been languishing at my drum set consumed by self­ loathing for an hour when a thought occurred to me. I realized I was too busy worrying about messing up than actually playing. I was too worried about failing to succeed. I discerned that the thing holding me back was my lack of self-confidence. I decided to stop being afraid of failure and instead embrace it. Since then, I have applied this mindset and gained great confidence in my musical abilities.

This confidence began to leak into other parts of my life. I have always felt like an awkward person and have had a hard time talking to people, but I found it became easier once I had found this confidence. I saw positive changes in my social skills, art, and writing. I became less hesitant. People have too much potential in them to let it be killed by fear and judgement. It is not fair to deprive yourself of great things because you are too fearful of doing them wrong. I believe that once you overcome the fear of failure, then you have the courage to do anything.”

Happiness Day

About five years ago, sometime in late June, I told Max, “You can’t spend the entire summer lying around in bed watching your i-Pod. You need to be productive and active, too.” In response, he wrote a list of what he planned to do every day: “15 minutes practicing saxophone, 15 minutes practicing percussion, 15 minutes practicing Hebrew, 15 minutes doing jumping jacks, push-ups, and sit-ups, 15 minutes walking the dogs, 15 minutes eating healthy food.”

Ironically, these days it’s rare for me to have more than 15-minute intervals with my sons. This is not a bad thing, I tell myself. First of all, they’re both adult-ish. Second, the point of momming is to raise your children to survive on their own in the wilderness. To live separately from me. To be brave, healthy, happy, independent, human beings.

Two hundred forty-three years ago, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Fifty-six representatives from the thirteen colonies signed the declaration and pledged their lives and honor to the cause of American independence. The declaration was an act of treason: levying war against the king, King George the Third. The punishment for treason was death – and not a merciful one. Drafting, signing, and adopting the Declaration of Independence was a revolutionary act.

The last time my son Shane traveled to Washington, D.C., he returned with a copy of the Declaration of Independence for me to frame for my office. I have it in my home office: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to Secure these Rights, Governments are Instituted…deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends it is the Right of the People… to institute new Government… organizing its powers in such form… most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” I love that the revolutionaries who wrote this 243 years ago wrote not once, but twice, in the preamble, the word “happiness.”  

Today is Independence Day. My revolution is this. Love instead of judgment. Gratefulness instead of criticism. And happiness for the time I get to spend with the loved ones in my life. Even if it’s in 15-minute intervals. I hope you enjoy your revolution on this Happiness Day.