School’s Out

Now that I am finally beginning to appreciate these lovely mornings of solitude – both kids in school, no job to rush off to – it’s coming to an end.

School’s out for summer.

Or will be in 7 short hours.

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Last morning bus pick up for awhile…

And while I am looking forward to lazy days by the pool, spontaneous outings and no more 6:15 alarm clock (oh, how I am looking forward to that), I am also looking ahead with some trepidation.

The boys are typical siblings and play well together until they don’t. I’m not thrilled about a summer of refereeing the (imagine nails on a chalk board whining voice) he hit me and I had it first. School provides a time structure for meals, screen time, getting dressed. I want a relaxed summer, but not one with my 7 year old in his jammies at lunch time or my 4 year old begging for more time on the iPad. And what about my time? I decided to take advantage of this layoff to focus on some writing tasks. With both boys underfoot all day, every day, how will I work that in?

It’s a challenge I’m not sure I can fully anticipate.

Parenting for me is a lot like sailing. You can check the forecasts, prepare the boat, ensure the life vests are ready and then set sail. The waters may be rougher than you expected or the winds not as swift. If you’ve stalled out in the middle of the lake with no breeze to take you, then drop anchor and go for a swim. If the seas are rough, you need to find your balance, adjust your course and know it’s only temporary. If the sun is shining and the winds friendly, take that moment to enjoy the speed, the warmth on your skin, the spray in your face. In other words – you deal with what comes and enjoy the moment.

Some days will be easier than others. Some days may not. I may not get time alone every day. I might not get the quiet or blocks of time I desire to write. I may need to learn a new normal of sneaking in bits here and there or writing in the semi-quiet while the boys are building race tracks down the hall or constructing towers of doom with every block, Lego and box in the playroom. I will need to take deep breaths and focus on new definitions of productivity.

And some days I’ll need to nurture my soul with the boys. I feel lucky that many of the activities that my children enjoy also fill me up. So while I may not be getting “quiet” time, I may be getting a lovely hike or exploring the local botanical gardens or perusing titles at the library.

And if all else fails, I may need to set that alarm clock after all and find my time where I can.

 

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The Productivity Problem

There has been plenty written lately about our culture of busyness. A quick Google search on that phrase will bring up several articles about the busy trend, its effects on our health and mental well-being and how to combat the busy trap. Now that I’m no longer answering to anyone but myself (and two little munchkins who apparently get hungry sometimes or can’t find their shoes), I am beginning to see how that culture had truly permeated my life. 

First, I noticed the quiet. It was eery, almost. Unsettling. Like the first time you eat a meal in a restaurant by yourself. Smartphones and pervasive internet access have created a world where workers are on-call 24 hours a day. Although I only worked part time, I was available full time. I checked email when I wasn’t in the office or working on projects, answered requests, tracked down information, returned calls and monitored social interactions during weekend events. It made me feel productive. Important, even. Needed. 

Recently, I’ve felt less so. Before, while I was working, I’d squeeze in a load of laundry without a second thought. I had a few minutes to sort and load the washer, so it got done. Now, whether the laundry is done promptly feels like a direct commentary on my very productivity. If I don’t do it right then or side step that extra comforter that needs a run through, I feel guilty, lazy, selfish. That’s a lot of power for a comforter.

A recent text conversation with the hubby opened my eyes. I had told him I’d be working on a blog post that day. Later, I texted him: 

Me: I have done nothing all morning. 

 

Hubby: Post not going well? 

 

Me: Well. Okay. I finished that. 

 

Hubby: I’d call that something. 

 

Me: But the dishes still aren’t done and the laundry is still all over the room. 

 

The fact that I equated my self-worth with chores was disturbing and eye opening. I’ve done this before. I’m sure, as women who are struggling with doing it all (i.e., all women – longer exposition for another day), we all have. But it has been gnawing at me since then. Why didn’t I include writing a post as an accomplishment for the day? Why didn’t I include the fact that I made a delicious and healthful meal for the family that they gobbled up? Why not include the silly giggling over three rounds of Pengaloo with B or the fact that I taught T a new way to approach a difficult math problem? Why not pat myself on the back for redesigning this space? Why do I look for validation from accomplishments that fit the culture of busy definition and not my own? 

The slower pace of this new at home life doesn’t mean I’m not producing. It doesn’t mean I’m not accomplishing. It may mean I’m producing and accomplishing differently than you or somebody else. But I’m learning to stop and enjoy the little accomplishments. By learning to appreciate my day and duties in a new way, I’m able to regroup and reevaluate what I want that next step to be. It’s allowing me to prepare for the larger accomplishments that are down the road. 

Instead of press clips, new Facebook fans, emails answered and deadlines met, I’m going to measure my days in hugs and laughter. I’m going to look at the quality of words written, not the number of them or time spent doing it. I’m going to take out my phone on the playground to capture moments, not distract myself from them. I am going to feel presence in where I am so that I can figure out where I want to be going. 

By eliminating the noise and the hum of busyness, I have a lot of room to fill with new experiences. Experiences that will make me feel productive. Important. Needed. And, I hope, like my best self.

My best self that may or may not have emptied the dishwasher. And that’s okay.

It’s only a dishwasher. 

 

Learning Through Sports

The spring sports season has come to an end. 

This was the first season that we had both boys in sports at the same time – T played his first season of baseball while B started soccer. We have spent the last few months shuttling kids and equipment to practices and games and parties. Weekends have been taken over by planning for parking, packing endless number of water bottles and fitting in all our other activities around game times. My sink has been soaking a seemingly endless rotation of white baseball pants in OxiClean. The kleats seem to outnumber the regular shoes. I am currently staring at the baseball bag by the front door that can now find a more permanent home and a couple of trophies that need a place on the shelf.

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Although I am feeling a bit of relief that our weekends are now our own again, I am a little sad to not be in the stands. There is something uniquely wonderful about watching your children improve at something over the course of a few weeks and months. Each little success – a great double, a save in goal – brought such light and joy to my children’s eyes, theirs searching for mine, the added boost in their smiles that came from seeing us clap and cheer for them. 

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As a parent, I often miss the little accomplishments. It seemed like T one day couldn’t read and now he’s hiding under the covers at night with a lantern polishing off chapter books. B was a late walker and yet now he’s deftly maneuvering his scooter down the neighborhood sidewalks. When did these things happen? Each game this spring forced me to slow down and focus on that individual child, that individual moment. It allowed me to turn a microscope on my children and watch them learn, make new friends, play, face challenges, experience wins and losses. I have learned so many new things by standing back and really observing my children. T is a big picture thinker who sometimes forgets he influences the game, too, because he’s so busy seeing what someone else can do to make the play (future manager?). He is an excellent hitter. He’s a goofball and a novice gum chewer. He keeps his coaches on their toes with endless questions and scenarios. B is concentrated during practice and eager to run after the ball. He’s not so good at remembering that he could actually score, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. He likes to kick and run full out taking a prat fall mid field just for the fun of it. 

The best part is that yesterday, even though our season is officially “over,” both boys begged to go outside and play catch and soccer on the field across the street. Throughout the season, I never once heard a “do I have to” or “I wish I didn’t have practice/a game today” (even if it still could take 10 extra minutes to wrangle everyone into the car). They have both come away this Spring with a love of their sport that I didn’t expect. Oh, I expected them to have fun, to play hard, to enjoy themselves. But this season, they’ve each found something more. Something that’s theirs. Something we can all share in with them. Something that will be with them for years to come – whether they continue to play these sports or not.  

I knew my children would learn teamwork, confidence and specific skills through sports. Who knew I’d learn so much about my own kids at the same time?

A New Adventure, A New Look

Three years ago, I started to get the itch. The itch to do a little bit more as my youngest was taking his tentative, forward thrusting steps towards two years old. I started formulating a plan to take on some freelance writing tasks and then, suddenly, I was meeting with a charismatic CEO about his start-up and “short-term” public relations needs. Three years later, now that I’ve said goodbye to the unexpected and a bit longer than short-term PR job, I find myself revisiting those plans.

A big part of that plan was taking a serious look at this blog and making it work better for me. Hence, the new address and new look.

The content will be the same – a mix of my mothering experiences and attempt at finding myself amidst the hubbub of daily life. This has been my space to explore the various facets of myself – woman, wife, mother, writer – and how they work best together as a team to make me me. Despite my pretty new page, that won’t change.

You may notice the new tag line: One woman’s evolution. As a parent, the one constant is change – just when you think you have the sleep schedule figured out, the discipline technique working or the favorite foods nailed down, our kids will switch it up on us dropping that morning nap, not responding to the sticker reward chart or suddenly refusing that breakfast banana they’d insisted on for the last nine months. As I tried to define myself in a quick soundbite for a tag, I realized that I was similarly changing. I can’t guarantee I’ll always be a stay at home mom, working mom or flex schedule mom. The one thing I can guarantee is that I am continuing to explore and journey through this life of mine and will share whatever nuggets of wisdom, hilarity and confusion that I encounter along the way. This blog will be a bit of a road map to my own growing up, as much as it is a semi-chronicle of my children’s development.

You may also notice I’ve outed myself. I started in this space anonymously nearly seven years ago. Part of it was to protect my kids, but I think a lot of it was to protect me. If I wasn’t any good, if no one ever read, if people hated what I said, being anonymous provided a bit of professional protection. Now, I realize that in order to truly be the best writer for you and for me, I need to take that leap of faith, put myself out there and open myself up to all the beautiful relationships and opportunities that presents.

So…here we go! Bookmark the address, follow the blog, like me on Facebook and check out my Twitter feeds. You should find everything you need on the right hand sidebar. Thanks for sticking with me and I hope you’ll join me on this new journey!

Mother’s Day and Migraines

Last night, I spent Mother’s Day smoothing the hair on my four year old’s forehead as he nodded off in my arms. I watched his peaceful face as he slept and felt the heft of his big boy weight in my arms remembering how different it felt when they were but wee babes, drunk on breastmilk and marking the crook of my elbow with their baby scent so that hours later I could still get a hit of that delicious smell. After the hubby helped lift him into bed last night and tucked him in, we got back to the business of cleaning up the vomit (truly, the hubby deserves a medal for handling most of the ick work).

My four year old suffers from migraines. It’s been several months since we had one and I was beginning to relax into the normal of their absence. Then, after dinner he announced his head hurt “on the inside.” I rushed to get the ibuprofen in him, hoping it would be in time. I put him in his jammies, laid the towels over the pillows, turned off all the lights and watched as he quickly declined from my energetic, giggling boy to a pitiful, whimpering mess who didn’t even so much as smirk at the pigeon begging for a puppy, a book that normally has him howling with laughter.

The medicine wasn’t in time. But after finally emptying his poor little tummy, he passed out in my arms on the bathroom floor and today, he’s back to himself, although home from school so I can ensure he’s taking it easy and pumping that water back into his system.

It wasn’t pretty, but it only highlighted what it is to be a mom. It isn’t just flowers and pancakes and hand written notes. It’s not even being teacher or friend or playmate. At the crux of it, it’s being the one that they want to hold onto when they feel so bad. The one that knows just how to rub their backs so they feel better. The one who knows how many blankets they need to feel safe. The one you instinctively want when the world is confusing, scary or painful. The one who kisses the boo boos and shoos the monsters out of closets and provides a haven of comfort and love.

Although I’m sad he suffered through this again and I wish we could have avoided it all together, I am grateful for the reminder that despite the tantrums, the smart mouths, the continuous pleading to clean their rooms, they still need a mama’s lap, a mama’s arms and a mama’s love.

And today, I get the added joy of seeing my not-so-baby-anymore-baby return to his silly self. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.

Well, maybe a laundry service.

What Color is Your Grass?

Since announcing my layoff so publicly, I have had the wonderful experience of hearing some extremely wonderful words of support from a variety of people in my life – new friends, old friends, colleagues from across my career, readers. And I cherish them all. Truly.

But I do have to admit, I have struggled with those expressing their jealousy or reminding me that I “don’t have to” work. Let me be clear, all of these were extremely well-meaning comments, I understand where they were coming from a place of love and I appreciate their supportive intent, but it’s hard to feel enviable right now.

Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed spending yesterday morning at field day opening ceremonies with my seven year old guilt free then meeting a friend for a spot of shopping and lunch – something I was never able to do with my flex working schedule. I ran to the post office alone this morning after car pool without having to plead with a four year old to stop trying to pile the extra Priority Mail boxes on the scale. I’m currently enjoying a cup of coffee with my feet up, iTunes streaming and the opportunity of a blank page in front of me.

But. Always a but. But, I didn’t choose this. Not this time.

I’ve been the full time stay at home mom before. A choice I made. A choice made with my husband. For our family. Full of the budgetary sacrifices that entails. We were prepared.

Going back to work part time was also a choice. A choice I made. A choice made with my husband. For our family. Full of the budgetary benefits that entails. Adding child care challenges to our routine. Rebalancing how the hubby and I tackled household responsibilities. We were prepared.

This wasn’t a choice. I was unprepared.

Yes, we can tweak our budgets a bit to accommodate our new situation. Yes, I am excited by opportunities I now have the flexibility to pursue. Yes, a summer by the pool with the boys without having to check my iPhone or balancing babysitter schedules is a relief. And yet, I still taste a bit of bitterness since it wasn’t on my terms.

No matter our situations, the grass is always greener. As a stay at home mom I was jealous of the financial freedom and adult interaction of working parents. As a flex worker, I often wondered if it was easier to be a full time working parent since flexible child care is impossible to arrange. And I know many a full time working mom who thinks either of those choices would be preferable to their situation.

Through all this, I am reminded of my dad. My dad takes great pride in his landscaping. He is forever puttering with new plants, tending new beds, keeping the yard cut and neat. Although one thing he always seemed to let go was the grass. Oh, his yard is beautiful and tended to, but it isn’t without weeds. For as long as I can remember, there was always an “as long as its green” policy.

As I move through yet another new phase of my life, I have decided to take this landscaping philosophy to heart. My “grass” may appear greener to someone else looking from the street, I just have to remember that they might not be able to see my patch of clover just as I might not be able to see their dandelions. The fact is, we all need to tend to our own patch of grass and decide what’s important for our own yards.

So I’m taking a step back and taking stock of my own landscape. I need to decide which weeds to pull and which I can let go and see what spots need new seed.

What parts of your yard need cultivating?

The Quiet After the Storm

The most surreal part of my new non-job status is the quiet.

The all encompassing lack of noise, commitments, thoughts.

The emptiness of my house when both boys are at school – a phenomenon I had yet to experience since I scheduled my in-office time around their school hours. The silence of my phone without the constant twitter notifications. The elimination of an entire email box and all its required responses. The new blank space on my calendar every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday after deleting recurring meeting commitments. The absence of need to constantly check-in, monitor industry publications and social trends.

My head is simply quiet. My fingers twitchy. I pick up my phone so many times a day – a subconscious muscle memory during my usual touch base times to ensure I wasn’t missing a new assignment or follow-up – and realize there is nothing to see. The equivalent of those ancient days of picking up your phone to ensure it still had a dial tone when that boy who promised to call hadn’t yet. Only right now, I’m not sure what I’m waiting for. Waiting to be needed. Waiting to be wanted. Waiting…

I find thoughts bubbling to the surface – old to-dos, stories that could have a hook, an article by a reporter that could have been relevant research – and find myself having to physically shrug them off. These thoughts that were part of my daily life for three years are simply not important to anyone else anymore. I let them go, flinging them off my fingertips with a quick shake of the wrist, a deep breath and the conscious reset of my thoughts on the present. The moment. The task at hand.

I haven’t yet settled into the quiet, instead, finding things to fill my time. Teacher appreciation gifts purchased. Window boxes and containers for the front steps planted. Laundry tackled. Summer camp registrations completed. A party to plan. A blog to redesign.

One day the quiet will feel less like disquiet and more like peace. One day the voice of more than self-doubt will creep back into my brain. One day the quiet will be welcome.

Until then, the cacophony of two boys is music to my ears and balm for my soul.

Tipping the Scales

After nearly three extremely fun, often stressful, always rewarding years of walking the proverbial work/motherhood tightrope, I find myself in need of a new circus.

On Monday, I was let go from my consulting position in favor of a big time agency. The good news? The start-up I started at three years ago is no longer a start-up. They are a full fledged, successful and growing company on the precipice of owning their space outright with an excellent product and all the right pieces in place for explosive growth again this year. The bad news? Understanding why the big time firm is the right move for the company doesn’t make the reality of my not being there to participate in this exciting time feel any better.

I’m not bitter or angry or grudge-holding, really, although I move through some of those phases each day. I’m more sad and confused and unmoored. This perfect situation had fallen in my lap, challenged my skill set, afforded me growth and allowed me to see that yes, I did have something to offer, I could work and mother, and I could contribute financially to our family in ways that have been extremely beneficial the last three years. To say I’m a little lost would be fair; in mourning, more accurate.

I’m mourning the paycheck. The job. The person that I was four mornings a week. I’m mourning the relationships I had with a group of extremely intelligent, dedicated and quirky folks I now won’t see every day. And I’m nursing the wounds of rejection.

The fact of the matter is I’ve always left jobs on my own terms. First job, hated to leave but there was no upward opportunity for me. My next job was filled with wonderful people and mentors and interesting projects, but an economic downturn in the communications space after 9/11 whittled our agency staff to the point where work wasn’t as much fun, our team was faced with challenging circumstances and the bureaucracy finally chipped the positives away and I chose to move on. Leaving the third job was for my babes, knowing that growing a fledgling bureau would take more commitment than I was willing to give at that time and I knew I was leaving it in good hands.

When you hire someone, it’s about their resume, of course, but it’s also about whether they have “it.” Are they the right fit for the team? Do you gel with their personality? Do you see potential and growth? You can overlook a possible gap in skill set for the person because they just have the right “it” for your company. I understand (and truly believe, these folks don’t make a habit of sugar coating) this was not a performance based parting, but it’s still hard to be on the receiving end of a lay off and not feel it’s personal. If anything, saying it’s all about the paper facts (budget or position elimination or whatever) almost smarts more because they’ve taken your “it” out of the equation — or determined “it’s” not enough to make up for the rest of it.

Or that’s what it feels like today. Tomorrow? I’ll keep you posted.

So, I’m going to lick my wounds. I’m indulging in a little self-pity. I’ll spend May shepherding my children through the end of the school year craziness and do some hard thinking about what I want to do next. And I’ll be writing. Expect to see me here more (shocker, I know!). After all, it was exploring my thoughts and life through this blog that contributed to my hire when a friend read something I’d written and later told me, “you know, if you’re thinking about dipping your toe in the water, my husband’s company could use some PR help…”

I will say this, my kids make it really hard to be sad for too long. Thanks to them, I have a little perspective on set-backs vs. priorities. Not to mention the snuggling under the covers reading Harry Potter with the seven year old Monday night helped restore a little balance in my thinking.

The scales might have tipped a bit for now, but I know that the odds are still in my favor.