Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Woman in Her Thirties at the First Day of Kindergarten

Dear Anna,

Usually I keep the letters for your birthday, but on such a momentous occasion as your first day of Kindergarten, I'm making an exception. Please note that I am keeping the schmaltz at bay, which is exceedingly difficult for me.  I'm doing my best with this post to give some advice to you as your mother, as a former teacher, and as a woman in her thirties who thinks she has learned a thing or two. I am not foolish enough to think that you will take my advice below (kids never do, amiright?). But hey, it's August of 2016, and things are so totally wonky in this world right now that it's proof stranger things have happened.




1. Understand how lucky you are. 

I could go on and on and ooooooonnnnn about this, but I think this little tidbit of advice speaks for itself. In a world where MANY kids don't have enough food to eat at home, where education isn't a priority, where resources can be scarce or non-existent, YOU HIT THE SCHOOL JACKPOT, and don't you forget it.



2. Choose your friends carefully. 

What makes Kindergarten so difficult for me to wrap my brain around is that you will soon be making your own friends, outside my influence. And those friends will influence you. You have an enormously kind and loving heart, and in many ways this is a disadvantage to you. Spend time with people who love, support, and encourage you as you are. Exactly as you are.




3. Remember you aren't special. 

Anna, it physically pains me to write that. Because to me, to your dad, to your grandparents, you are EVERYTHING. You are a magical bunny that dances on rainbows. But you are a person in a world full of people, none of whom you are better than. Someday, after extensive therapy, you will realize I am right. Bad things happen in a world where one person feels superior to another, and these are things you will see with your own eyes. In the meantime, remember that when you see a kid different than you in any way, when you pass the custodian in the hall, when you succeed where others don't, you are no more deserving of respect or appreciation than anyone else. So give it freely, to everyone.


4. It is okay to fail. In fact, it's preferred.

You are not going to be good at everything, and yet the reality is that people are defined by their successes. You, in school, will see that on a magnified scale. (Testing, gifted programs, tutoring, oh my!) What you don't see is that you will learn far less from your successes than you will your failures. It will suck to fail. Yes, it will suck some serious suckage. But you will grow from those failures, and that growth is something to be proud of.



5. Be positive. Almost always. 

In case you haven't figured this out yet, school is going to be a major part of your life for a majorly long time. The way I see it, you have two choices: grump about it, or see it as an opportunity. In kindergarten, being positive it going to be fairly easy. But that is going to get harder as the years go on. Your yogi-mom knows one thing for sure: the energy you put out into the universe is very much in your control (one of the only things that is!). So be positive, and spread the positivity, even when it's hard. Especially when it's hard.


6. Your world is limitless. 

This is less a piece of advice and more a mantra I want you to keep with you on your first day of school, all the way to your last. Each teacher you have, each class you take, each project you put your full effort into, will open a door to a possibility in your life. You will not walk through every door, of course. But keeping in mind how lucky you are, how privileged you are, and choose each possibility with equal parts caution, confidence, and responsibility.

You are so ready for this. Despite my reticence to let you go, I too am ready for this. We are in this together, even when we're not. I'm so proud of you, my perfect little rainbow-bunny. The world needs what you are about to learn to give.

Love,
Mom

Friday, July 29, 2016

A Woman in Her Thirties Takes her Lumps

****IMPORTANT NOTE BEFORE READING THIS POST! Everything is fine, I am 100% okay, and nothing to worry about!****


This past Sunday morning, I felt a lump in my breast. This was weird for two reasons:

A) I almost never give myself self-exams, despite the fact that my OB is always harping on me to do so because I have lumpy breasts (more on this later).

B) I wasn't actually looking for a lump-- I was worried about a spot on my skin (because my dermatologist hates me for my 'sun history', as she puts it). The spot was nothing, BTW.

But there it was, definitely a lump.

I am not new to this. In fact, I had a needle biopsy done in my early twenties because of a lump that has since gone away. It was then that I learned of my lumpy breasts, but as all twenty-somethings do, I mostly disregarded the issue and went back to my Bud Light.  

Good(ish) times.

Normally, I wouldn't be worried about finding a lump because of my... well, lumpiness. But this one felt different. Hard, like a pea. And I have to admit I had about an hour of panic on Sunday morning.  

What if?

I know from my complicated pregnancy with Aaron to never-- never-- google medical symptoms or conditions. So I called my OB on Monday morning so she could take a look. 

By a miracle of the patron saint of mammograms (Saint Agnes?), my OB had an opening that afternoon. This is a woman who books A YEAR out for appointments, so it was literally amazing that I was able to get in to see her. I also know my OB veeeery well. Let's just say we both have PTSD caused my my pregnancy and birth with Aaron. 

Man, does this kid ever owe me. 

She was the one who wanted me on hospital bed rest at 28 weeks, the one who wanted a scheduled C-Section, the one who was far more conservative than my perinatologist. 

If anyone was going to take a lump seriously, it was her.

After going through some pictures of the kids and talking about the support system that is SO lacking for new mothers in our society, she took a feel of my boobs. And sure enough, she felt the lump.

Actually, she felt two. 

'I'm not worried,' she said. But if there's one thing I've learned from my pregnancies, when a doctor isn't worried about you they move slowly. Their priority list is constantly shifting and moving, and to be low on your doctor's priority list is a GREAT thing. But she sent me downstairs to imaging right away, and 15 minutes later I was having my first mammogram and (boob) ultrasound.

I sent a couple 'no-big-deal' texts-- one to L, who of course was worried, and one to J, who had my kids and needed to know I might be late. But other than that, I needed to be quiet and zen-like at that point. I focused on the Kim-Kanye-Taylor feud (they all suck, if you ask me) that was highlighted on the cover of people magazine while I waited for everything to be set up. 

I had heard mammograms weren't all that fun, but wow. I was not prepared for the squishing, smashing, and breath-holding that happened in that room. However, the technician was wonderful and the doctor who gave me the ultrasound was fantastic, and within 40 minutes I was told that the lumps were, indeed, just that. 

This week has been crazy. So many activities, so busy, so many things going on. But there is nothing like a lump in your boob to make you stop, take notice, and breathe with gratitude for your health.  



Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Woman in her Thirties' Summer, So Far

Good lord, this summer is flying by. Good LAWD!

Instead of trying to re-cap everything I'm going to dump some pictures here, say some stuff, and call myself caught up on my blog.


This is a picture of my mom and Anna, at my mom's 75th birthday in June. Of course it was wonderful to go home, but I'd like you to take note of my mother's face in this picture. See that glare? That's what I had to put up with all week as we planned this party for her. My mom is... how do I put this... ANTI-party. But shoot, 75 is a big birthday, and quite frankly we all agreed it was very selfish of her not to want to celebrate it in a semi-big way.

We had 8:00 Mass offered for her, then we went out to brunch, where she gave the sweetest impromptu speech in the world that revolved around the life and death of Prince. By the end of the day, she decided not to be mad at me anymore for making her celebrate her birthday.

We also got our first family picture (minus L) in about 25 years. Aaron was super cooperative...


Summer has been awesome. You might remember from last year when I rated all the activities I'd done in terms of how crazy they each made me. Well, I really took that to heart and have been super careful about not over scheduling the kids. Mornings are for camps, afternoons are for play. Fridays are for field trips somewhere fun. We've had our hard days, but for the most part it's been a good balance.  

I taught two sessions of a creative writing workshop at the community center in June and July, and those were great. I kept telling people I kind of felt bad getting paid to do such fun stuff with great kids. But I did notice that my teacher timing-- something I always prided myself on-- was a little rusty, as was my pop-culture knowledge (I had a student explain the whole Pokemon Go thing to me). 

But the best part was that the kids were in camp in the same building as me, and we got to have lunch in my classroom afterwards. They loved writing on the whiteboard and getting to meet some students. The Best.

Work has been so awesome, and that is another post. Let's just say that I didn't realize how much I needed to go back to work until I went back to work.

We drove to the Milwaukee area last weekend to visit some cousins of L's. I am ashamed to admit that was my first time-- ever-- to cross the border into Wisconsin. But the drive was lovely, the cheese was plentiful, and I always feel so energized by a great road trip.


I was super excited about my 'garden' this year, but the truth of the matter is I'm terrible at gardening. However, I'd like to point out that this little green baseball-sized melon below is a cantaloupe that is ACTUALLY growing. So there. 

Despite this lighthearted post, I have to admit that I'm very much caught up in the cesspool of craziness that is happening in our country right now. It's overwhelming and scary to know that my little babies are growing into this reality. A woman in her thirties needs to know where she stands on things and why she stands there, and this summer has also been a time of reflection, arguments, and frustrations that I take very seriously. I don't know what to say other than I look at this picture I took a couple weeks ago and get sad.


And worried. Not just for the ways I can't protect my children from the realities of life, but also for the ways in which I can. 

I think my mother, now 75, would argue that it wasn't always this way. That times have changed so drastically; that she has never seen the world in such chaos. I remember my recent US history don't know if I believe that. What I do know is that I'd like this summer-- Anna and Aaron's understanding of it-- to last forever. 

But since that can't be, I'll continue to break out my phone and capture some small, worthwhile summer-moments, and appreciate them through their eyes.






Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Woman in Her Thirties Turns Four

Dear Mr. Bud,

Today you are four years old. FOUR!

1.

2. 


3. 

4.

(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.

Love,
Mom

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.

Wild.

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.