Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Woman in Her Thirties Turns Four

Dear Mr. Bud,

Today you are four years old. FOUR!





(Yes, he is wearing a Larry Dallas from Three's Company shirt. That's a story for another time.)

Let's start this year's birthday letter with sharks. Your love of them, most specifically. In case you're reading this far into the future and you have forgotten what I'm talking about, let this picture remind you:

See that blue shark? He's your everything. People have asked me many times why you love that plastic shark so much, and I have no answer. All I can say is that over a year ago you found that as part of a water toy set that has long since been discontinued, and you haven't let it go since. No, I don't have a backup. That's it. The one and only Sharky. 

Sharky has, of course, lead to an intense love of aquatic life. I bought at year pass to the aquarium at Mega, and if we ever want to make you happy we simply take you there.

Because you are my second child, you are doomed to suffer the eternal fate of being compared to your sister. I'm sorry about that, but the sooner you just accept that as a fact of life, the better. You are the Yin to your sister's Yang, and that makes me so happy. Where she struggles to take risks, you encourage her. Where you struggle to sit still and pay attention, she is there. But while many people have been quick to characterize you as 'all boy' (ugh, how I hate that term...), I see the sides of you that aren't so easily defined. You are a risk taker in many ways, but cautious in others. You are often not interested in pleasing other people until you are, and your sensitive and caring nature shines through. 

What I'm saying is, as your mother, I see how multi-faceted you are. And I love every piece of what makes you the smart, kind, and adventuresome little person you are.

I'm going to skip the sentimentality in this post, though I have to tell you, it's hard. Anna's birthday is different-- we joke about my long labor, my struggles breastfeeding, my lack of sleep. But with you, your birthday is a time of serious reflection. You are a reminder every day of how fortunate we are to be together; the precariousness of life. 

Some people hit the lottery, some people get lucky by ways of talent or riches or opportunity. But you, Mister, have been the luckiest, most wonderful thing to have happened to me, and to our family. Our lives are better because of all you are, and all you represent.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Woman in Her Thirties Gets Back Up

I failed at something recently. A colossal, huge, gigantic, soul-crushing fail. If failing were the Olympics, this particular fail would have earned me a gold medal.

Since it's graduation time, all these big wigs from all over the country are giving commencement speeches about success. And one of the themes I noticed (maybe because I sensed that this particular fail was about to happen), was the idea of failing well.  To be successful also means being able to take the blows, the let-downs, and learn from them. Not just brush it off as bad luck, bad business, bad people. Really, really learn from the mistake, and grow.

When you are not in the midst of a bad fail, this is easy advice to take. Here is Anna in her 'cap' and gown as she graduated pre-school last week:

She's feeling pretty good about life, and rightfully so. I could have taken her aside at this moment and told her that life is full of ups and downs and she should prepare for setbacks. And her response (like anyone else who might be riding a pretty great wave) would be something like, 'yeah, sure. Now where's my graduation cake?'

But when you're in it, watching the walls crumble around you, it's hard to remember that setbacks are just a part of life. They feel like the definition of life, of you, of your worth.*

*I'm over-dramatizing for effect. Seriously, I'm fine. Don't worry.

Here is what I've learned from this particular fail. Read not while you're in a cap and gown looking at all the wonderful opportunities in the world, but rather while you're eating a pint of ice cream and kicking yourself after you've blown it.

1. Admit where you went wrong

I posted about this a long time ago, the lost art of apology. For some reason we live in a society now where apologies = accepting full blame, and therefore should be avoided. In my particular case, I felt pretty 'right' about some of the decisions I'd made. But there were places I admit I went wrong. So I apologized for those things, even though it sucked, but not for the whole thing, because that wouldn't be fair to me.

2. Trust your gut

A woman in her thirties has quite an intuition. It's something that should be celebrated, not ignored. I sensed I was making some mistakes during this particular failing. Now I know I should have paid closer attention to those worries.

3. Walk it out

There's an old adage about talking to trees. Something about how if you talk long enough, they will tell you the answers. I didn't technically talk to the trees, but since I am a terrible sleeper during times of stress, I took a whole lot of walks. It was during those times that I realized that yes, I had failed, and I had to embrace the road before me as including that failure.

Aaron is a fabulous walking partner.

4. Realize you aren't responsible for other people's happiness

I am soooooo glad I made this New Year's resolution in January. I have come back to it a million times over the last week or so. I am not-- NOT-- responsible for other people's happiness. It's a fool's errand to try. So part of embracing failure is to admit that some bridges may be burned along the way. It's a bummer. But it's also okay.

I'm being intentionally vague in this post (sorry), but instead of eating ice cream I'm using what I've always used in times of stress- writing. It's through this type reflection that I'm able to really recognize what I've learned, and fail well. As well as I can, anyway. So maybe the trick to failing well means failing consciously? Maybe. I should ask a woman in her forties what she thinks.

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Woman in her Thirties on the End of the School Year

There was a time I loved June. I loved wrapping up my creative writing units I always saved until the end of the school year (my favorite). I loved planning my book reading/lesson planning/leisure time for the summer. As a teacher, I don't think I ever really experienced a 'summer off'. But did loooooove that wonderful feeling of being 'done with the school year' in June.

Now, as a parent, I hate June. June is the worst. Actually, the end of May is the worst. That feeling you get when you realize you have two weeks left of school, you're looking at your summer calendar, and are terrified you have either over booked or under booked your children.  And you look at all the stuff you need to get done, and all the expectations on everyone, and how you'd just one time really love to have even a Sunday just to relax around the house...

Or is that just me?

This school year has been pure magic in many ways. Anna is finishing up at Golden Years, which is not a nursing home as the name implies, but is a little Montessori school walking distance from our house, where (when the weather cooperates), Aaron and I can walk to pick her up and play on the playground. She has loved her time there, has blossomed in every way, and we will definitely miss it.

And then there's Aaron, still at Creekside, who just last year at this time was still crapping his pants and only beginning to embark on his love affair with sharks. He too has loved his school year and matured in every possible way. I mean, look at him!

Now that I'm working again (a post for next time), I'm being much more careful with my time. Each moment seems even more fleeting than the last, every decision I make is first carefully weighed next to how much joy it's going to bring to me and my kids in the limited amount of 'this' time we have together. 

And that is overwhelming, especially in June, when you have this whole expectation-laden summer ahead of you, and you know you need to stop and enjoy, because as far as life goes, this is as good as it will ever be.

I'm really, truly not one of those moms who's constantly sad at how big her kids are getting. I'm so proud of these little stinkers that I get excited when I think about all life has in store for them. It's just that at the end of the school year it becomes jarring, their grown-up-ness.

And mine, too, quite frankly. I just turned 38. THIRTY EIGHT! Aren't I still sneaking a flashlight under my covers so I can read Sweet Valley Twins? The years go by so. Damn. Fast. 

Blink, and you miss it. Don't blink, and you still might miss it. I am only human, and a woman in her thirties (still) at that. June (of 2016!) is almost here ready or not. Lucky me to be a part of it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Woman in her Thirties Gets Political

Several months ago, a good friend named Heather told me she was interested in running for the Minnesota House of Representatives. This news wasn't terribly surprising to me-- she has always been very involved in politics, very opinionated, and very connected in the community. I was thrilled for her, but also thrilled for myself-- I'd never known a real, actual politician, and I think a woman in her thirties is supposed to know at least one.

The details are long and tedious, but I'll sum up thusly: Heather and I have always been aligned politically (we are Democrats). She is also a wonderful person and great friend, and after a few rounds of helping her edit some website material and other literature, she asked me to be her campaign chair.

I think my actual response was, 'You know I don't know what the hell I'm doing, right?'

And her response was something like, 'Yeah, we'll figure it out together.'

Our first major hurdle to overcome was the caucus in March. California is not a caucus state, so this was the first time I'd participated in such a thing. IT WAS WILD. Heather was running against a person who's held the seat for 1000 years (slight exaggeration), and another newcomer. Our point that day, other than voting for POTUS, was to become a delegate in the district convention in April, where the Democratic Party would formally endorse a candidate (hopefully Heather) to run against the Republican candidate.

Here I am the night of the caucus:

To this day, Anna thinks Auntie Heather was running for President of the United States. I stopped correcting her because I like that idea.  

In theory, on the night of the caucus we would go in, cast our vote for President, then sit in a room with our other Democrat neighbors, and listen to some resolutions people wanted on a ballot at the convention. When the chair asked, 'Who wants to be a delegate at the convention?', some people would raise their hands, get chosen, and go home to watch American Idol.

But politics is tricky. Heather knew that in order for her to do well at the convention, she'd need as many delegates on her side as possible at that convention. So the night of the caucus, we had LOTS of people who wanted to be delegates, from all the candidates. Long story short, we sub caucused, argued, and were there for several hours before the delegates (including myself) were chosen.


It seemed like Heather did great at the caucus, but we live in a huge district, and it was hard to tell just how many delegates Heather would have voting for her at the convention. So the time between the caucus and the convention she spent door knocking, networking, mixing, mingling, and getting herself out there. I helped a little, but really it was all Heather.

(As part of my 'help' to her, I was on the Rules Committee for the convention. These are the people who make the rules for how the convention is run. This is a post in and of itself. What a crazy learning experience for me. Talk about 'government by the people'! It was really fascinating.)

So the day of the convention was last Saturday. I was on pins and needles for Heather, but also for myself because I was nervous for her. Truth be told, there was a part of me that was scared she would get the nomination. If there is anything I've learned in the last few months it's this: politics really are a yucky business at times. And when you have a dear friend involved in it, you want to protect her from the yuck.
Little politicians. 

The convention, in theory, can last a couple hours. Some resolutions, a couple votes, and the Democratic endorsement is set. But last Saturday was truly a wild ride. After a couple votes, one of the candidates (with the least votes) dropped out of the race and didn't endorse a candidate. So it was Heather versus the incumbent. We voted at least four more times... maybe more. I lost count because it was so crazy. They were neck-and-neck (last count she was down by FOUR votes!).  By 4:00 there was no way either of them was going to get the 60% needed for the endorsement.

So Heather had two options: she could go to a primary, which would divide the party and prolong the process, or she could concede to the incumbent.

When people have asked me about Heather in the last few months, I have described her as someone whose heart is pure gold. She's a firecracker, wicked smart, and very generous. Of course she wasn't going to do what might be best for her-- she did what was best for the party. This was her during her concession speech. I can't explain the amount of energy in the room at this moment. We were all emotional and so proud of her.

A few weeks ago, Heather and I were talking about this process and how much we'd learned. She likened it to us going to college together, and that was so true. Because of this process I understand what's happening on the news better. I understand my party better and feel more aligned to it. And I truly understand the amount of time and energy it takes to run for political office. It's not for the faint of heart.

And the craziest part: I loved being a part of this for Heather. No, I don't have what it takes to run. But I do have talents that lend themselves to being a part of politics, just like every other red-blooded American (WE ARE SO FORTUNATE TO LIVE IN THIS COUNTRY!). I'll always be grateful to Heather for allowing me to be a part of this first run with her. And as far as the next run goes.... well, let's just say I'm 100% sure that I'm going to have that friend in politics after all.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Woman in her Thirties Goes* Back* to* Work*

*Not at all sure how I feel about this title, based on the reasons you'll read below. But it works for now. It's a 'working title'. Get it??

You're not going to believe this, but I'm officially 'back to work':

(Look closely and you'll see me, toasting with my new co-workers.  Side note: always accept a job where they break out champagne when you sign on.)

This post has the capability of being very long and extremely boring, so I'll summarize by saying this: for the last six months or so, I've felt the urge/desire to go back to work. Please don't confuse that by thinking I was feeling 'bored' as a stay-at-home mom or 'unfulfilled'.  I was neither of those things.  I think what honestly happened was that I re-emerged as a real-life human being after getting a solid year of sleep that made me functional and able to put together a cohesive thought.  And when I did that, I felt the desire to re-enter the workforce.

If you've been reading for a long time, you know I loved teaching. I still do love it, and do it on the side. But I'm a mom now, and as I've mentioned before, my family life is not exactly conventional. Part of the process of going back to work was figuring out how to do that and still keep my family going, and I quickly (and sadly) came to the realization that teaching was not the right path for my family.*

*It really pains me to write that. I am a good teacher. Teachers are so important and so powerful. I will miss having that be a large part of my identity. 

I also had the insanely, ridiculously fortunate position of being a woman in her thirties with an incredible choice in front of me: I could do whatever the HELL I wanted.  My career choice could, quite simply, be whatever I wanted it to be. I could volunteer in an animal shelter all day, if I wanted to. I could go back to school and learn taxidermy (not sure why that thought popped up in my mind). Because of the life my husband provides, my choices were endless.

(Side note: Thank you, Daddy! For all you do!)

It was a few months ago during a meeting with my publisher that I talked about this 'dilemma', and during the course of that conversation she mentioned that they were needing to hire someone because book business is booming. And my newly-functional brain (because of the sleep) mulled over what it would be like to work for her, and how it could possibly be the perfect career move for me.

So I did what Brene Brown or Elizabeth Gilbert would do, and I put together a proposal. I didn't say what I couldn't do, but rather what I could. I needed flexibility (the one, major thing missing from my career in teaching) and I needed part time (another near-impossibility in education).  I needed to be able to work from home, mostly.  I told them that if they gave me a chance, I would make myself invaluable to them.

It feels appropriate to put a picture of my little monkeys here. Because I love them so much.  

Yesterday was my first day. I have a lot to learn, but man, it was exhilarating. We talked about business and monetization of services and how to uplift writers and build their platforms. I'll miss teaching, but I know I can give a lot to this career. And I still got to pick my kids up from school and play in the park until dance class.  Wins all around.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Woman in Her Thirties Sets Sail

Last year we were given an outrageously generous gift from L's parents: a Disney Cruise. Sometimes I feel bad bragging about what amazing in-laws I have, but in this case there is simply no getting around it.  My in-laws are really wonderful.

For months, we have been planning this trip.  And by planning, I mean getting passports:

Figuring out how, exactly, to get to the cruise ship itself, and visiting my doctor for an emergency-prescription of Xanax.

You read that right. Remember how I had that MRI when I was pregnant with Aaron?  Did I mention I cried the entire time through it because I'M SO STINKING CLAUSTROPHOBIC?

(This is Anna and me during our first ski lesson.  Space, people!  The great outdoors and SPACE for this woman in her thirties!)

Throughout the planning process, many people told me I had nothing to fear. Cruise ships, particularly ones of the Disney variety, are ENORMOUS.  There is so much to do, so much to see.  Disney does everything so amazingly well, there's no way you'll scratch your face off from anxiety the moment you board the ship.

(Us, the moment we boarded the ship.  My hands were shaking so badly when I took this photo that I'm surprised it came out, I was that nervous. But as any woman in her thirties with a little bit of crazy in her does, I tried my best to hide it.)

For all the advice I got before boarding the ship, this was the truest: Disney does it right. From the sendoff:

Dance party on the top deck.  Anna was into it.  

To the meals:

Brunch at Palo. Maybe my third plate? Fourth? I lost count...

To the activities:

The pools were crowded... but fun!

To the rooms:

Room service on our deck?  I mean, sure....

To the character visits:


Disney just does an incredible job.  Everything: the shows, the logistics, the fact that they give you hand sanitizer every single time you enter a restaurant.... It was truly a wonderful trip.


And probably most magical, of course, was that we got to experience it with all of L's family.  I don't care how many times Goofy makes an appearance in a sombrero:

The happiest times are spent with the people you love.  Who love you back.  

End note:  Not a single dose of Xanax was taken during the trip.  Dramamine, yes.  Xanax, no.  Disney, your magic was felt in this woman in her thirties, too!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Woman in Her Thirties Completes the Baby Stage

Guess who's potty trained?

At three and a half, and over six months of accidents, non-compliance, and frustration, it's official. Aaron is potty trained.  (Want to know the secret? There isn't one. Kids will stop crapping their pants when they're good and ready. So throw the books away and deal with that as fact.)  And to make matters even... more... he's finally decided use his monkey-like powers to climb in and out of his crib.  So daddy is taking the front of his crib off today, giving him his first 'big boy' bed.*

*Yes, at three and a half.  I have held on to the crib with bloody fingernails with both of my children. I'm all about containment, people.  

It hit me, last night, that these two momentous events are proof that we have exited the baby stage.  My babies aren't babies anymore.  They aren't toddlers.  They're... what is the word for this age?  I'm leaning toward 'big little monkeys'.

It is impossible to compile everything one learns while being a mother. Especially in the first years. I keep thinking back to all the advice I got during my pregnancies, both solicited and unsolicited.  Some of it was so spot-on, so important, that I feel I owe money to the person who gave it to me.  And some of it... well... some of it I wish I had ignored.  So here's my list of baby-truisms, for whatever they are worth.

1.  Take as many pictures and videos as you want.  Videos especially.  

Every few months, an article goes viral about how we need to turn our phones off and be present with our children.  They are reminders that we are social-media junkies and time-wasting jerk-parents.  Of course, some of that is true.  Turn off the phones and play with your kids.  But for all the times I'm grateful I've done that, I'm equally grateful for the times I've pulled the phone out to take a video. When my kids are teenagers and hate my guts, I have a computer full of videos like these to keep me happy:


2.  It's okay to not love the baby-baby phase.

Full, true confession.  I really struggled-- a lot-- through the infant stage.  Breastfeeding was so difficult for me and brings back unpleasant memories.  Recovering from a vaginal birth, recovering from a  C-Section... not fun.  Doing those things on no sleep while feeling chained to the house... especially not fun.  For the longest time, I've felt like a bad mom for not loving that time, especially when so many people told me to cherish every moment.  Every woman is different in this, and it's okay to know that.  I prefer pants-pooping toddlers to wailing newborns, and that's just the truth of it.

Cute as hell, though.  Cute. As. Hell.

3. Beware the parent wearing rose-colored glasses.  

Something happens to a parent after their child turns about five, and continually gets worse as the child grows.  They forget, black-out, or otherwise choose not to remember the truth of things.  They say things like, 'My first born never cried! I swear! He was a perfect angel!'  And you, the new mom who hasn't showered in three days, comforting your wailing three-month-old, want to punch that person in the face.

I've caught myself doing this, too.  It's a survival mechanism.  'Anna was a much easier baby,' I'll say, comparing her to Aaron, when the truth of the matter was that she didn't sleep, cried until she made herself puke, and refused to feed herself until after she turned one.  It's the same reason women 'forget' the pain of childbirth-- survival of the species.  But I wish someone had told me that when I had little, little babies and thought I was losing my mind.

4.  People's definitions of things vary WIDELY.  

As I have complained often, loudly, and for many years, I didn't sleep for a very, veeeery long time. There were a few good bouts here and there, some lasting more than a few days, but for the most part, I didn't sleep.  THIS MADE ME INTO A PSYCHO CRAZY PERSON.

To this day, when someone brags about their six-week old who 'sleeps through the night', I get pangs.  Violent ones.  But I have realized over the years that people define 'sleeping through the night' very differently.  According to the myriad sleep books I read, 'sleeping through the night' means a six hour stretch, somewhere around the month-two month mark.  That could be 9:00pm-3:00am.  Or 7:00pm-1:00am.  Do you see where I'm going with this?

I am a normal human being, who defines a decent night of sleep as 10:00pm-6:00am.  If my kid is awake at 1:00am and up every hour until 6:00am, THAT AIN'T SLEEPING  THROUGH THE NIGHT.

Same applies to a child being 'a good eater', or 'an easy traveler', or 'potty trained'.  People define those things very differently. Quite frankly, I can't wait until the day where I say something like, 'oh, my kids were pretty good sleepers', and actually mean it.  It will mean my rose-colored glasses are firmly in place, and probably will not move for the remainder of my existence on earth.

5.  The right thing to do is what works for your family. 

A friend gave me this advice at my baby shower, and oh, how true it is.  True regarding the day-to-day logistics of life, and true regarding the overarching job of creating a working family unit.  I have luxuries many mothers don't have.  I also have challenges many mothers don't have.  So the choices I make must be what works for US, and not what a book tells me should work for the life I don't have.

And this, more than anything, is the advice that sticks with me now that my babies aren't babies anymore. A woman in her thirties can easily figure out what works, logically.  She's probably a master at juggling schedules, multi-tasking, and keeping everyone else happy.  Well, at least alive.  But the challenge is taking the family unit we created-- whatever it looks like-- and accept it for what it is. Accept it, and then embrace it with gratitude.