Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Woman in Her Thirties and the Heroes We All Need

Have you guys seen The Great British Baking Show? If not, it's on Netflix. And you're going to need to watch it.

Let me be clear about a few things before I start talking about this important piece of television. The first is that I don't have time for television. Neither do you, I'm guessing. We are back to school, the newest members of the swim and hockey teams, oh, and did I mention work and all the other millions of things we have going on? Every single day is a race to the finish, and every morning we wake up and start a new race all over again.





Who has time to watch TV? WHO?

After a particularly taxing day recently, I decided that instead of 'winding down' with a scroll through the news and reading about how things are... well... very... you know... I decided I would give The Great British Baking Show a try.

This is the show the world needs right now. Here's why:

Everyone is kind. 
I completely realize I sound like a Pollyanna hippie when I say this, but I simply don't understand why people are so friggin mean to each other. Maybe the mean parts of The Great British Baking Show are edited out; maybe Mary really is a horrible human being who is secretly making fun of each contestant on the show, but I doubt it. The Great British Baking Show is a competition, and yet everyone, even the people in competition with each other, still finds a way to get along and not call each other horrible names.  See, people? It's possible.

There is no unnecessary drama. 
We need to talk about how news nowadays has been sensationalized to to soap-opera proportions. Don't get me wrong-- I love a good drama, and I love getting all the feelz. But a Kardashian announcing a pregnancy is not 'Breaking News'. In fact, it's not important in the least. Maybe we should also apply that philosophy to some other famous people, too. The Great British Baking Show doesn't have ridiculously dramatic music; the hosts don't pit people against each other and try to get them to talk sh*t. It's strictly a fact-based presentation of how each competitor has performed. How refreshing!

There is civil discussion of complicated issues. 
I'm a woman in her (very) late thirties now, so I know a few things. One thing I know for sure is that very few issues have black and white solutions. Let's take Mary's Cherry Cake, which was part of the competition in the first or second show:


Each contestant had to recreate this masterpiece, using the same ingredients and minimal directions. Each came up with varying versions, each with their own problems and successes. It took a lot of discussion of technique and evaluations of the final product to come up with the winner, and even that one had its flaws. If Mary's Cherry Cake requires this much bi-partisan discussion, I think it's safe to say that a zinger on Twitter is not going to solve the problem of, oh I don't know, immigration reform.

Active listening. 
Though every contestant on The Great British Baking Show is an expert baker and the judges are legitimately famous for their craft, I have yet to see anyone on that show plug their ears, say their way is the only way, and not be willing to listen to other people's ideas and concerns. Here's an example of what happens on this show:


Notice how they are looking at the person talking and listening to what they are saying. They might think this guy is totally out of his mind doing what he's doing, but they are still giving him the decency of listening to him and letting him speak. And when they have questions, they ask them of the person. They don't gossip or roll their eyes or make assumptions. They just ask questions when they have them, and get the answer from the person who can give the answer. I mean, what a concept!


There is a conscious moving forward.
Of course, The Great British Baking Show is a competition. People are eliminated each show, and while that is a necessary sadness, there is also support and hope for this person's future. No gloom and doom, no screams of the apocalypse. This is, in fact, the system. Concessions need to be made for the greater good. And at the end of the day, if the person eliminated is someone the judges or the audience truly believes in as a baker, we have the choice to support them in other ways. You picking up what I'm putting down, here? A person doesn't need to win The Great British Baking Show to make a positive impact in this world. And we, the audience, can choose to support that person in their loss and elevate their... baking... in other, maybe even more impactful ways.

This is, you know, life. We can move forward with hope. We really, really can.

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Woman in her Thirties, Post Summer

No, blog, I have not abandoned you. I know it seems like I have (and in the home stretch, no less!). Believe me, I've had no less than ten posts brewing in the last few months:

A Woman in her Thirties Goes Vegan
A Woman in her Thirties Finally Gets her Husband to go to Yoga
A Woman in her Thirties and the Fast-Paced Game of Mini-Golf

But I keep going back to a conversation I had with a woman I taught with in China. She was from Europe and had lived in Asia many years, and when I told her I liked to write she smiled and said, 'Write quickly, then. If you live in China for a year you can write a book, but if you live in China for two years you can't write anything at all.'

I think I finally know what she meant by that. There is a lot going on in the world right now. A lot of despair and sadness. Was all that despair and sadness there before? Sure. But call me privileged or call me naive or call me whatever you want, but it feels more palpable now. I struggle to comprehend a lot of things, and while I'm reading and listening and focusing and trying to understand what seems fairly clear cut to me in many instances, I remain like the person I was after three years overseas: Void of anything substantial to write.

I want to write about how my kids are starting 1st grade and Pre-K, and I'm biased as hell but I think they are pretty much the greatest little people ever.


I want to write about the awesome people I'm working with, and all I'm learning from them.

I want to write about how nervous I am for our fall schedule to begin this week. We are exceedingly overbooked, even more than usual, and everyone keeps telling me to get used to it, but I'm really, really not looking forward to being so busy. 

I want to write about what we're struggling with this summer, what we're doing to fix those things, and what we're not doing to fix those things, and how being a parent means that every damn day you're negotiating who these little people are with who you are, and that requires a great deal of self-reflection and humility and patience. 

I want to write about this TEDx talk, and how the absolute truth of it makes me feel both inspired and terrified at the same time. 

I want to write about our summer. Our trips to California and up north. The joys of swimming and building elaborate LEGO cities and paying way too much to go on little adventures around the cities and neglecting our piano practice. 


But I don't know where to begin. Because while all these things are true, my voice feels small and unimportant right now. The entire premise of my second book was that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. I guess that is where I'm residing. Frozen, figuring out how to be part of some bigger solution. 

At any rate, dear blog, I have not abandoned you. I'm thirty-nine now, in the final year of this little writing adventure, and while I'm grateful for all the ways you've helped me process the last (seriously awesome) decade, my relationship to you and to all my writing has changed. 

Stay tuned. There's more, I'm just not sure yet what that means. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Woman in her Thirties, Five Years Out

Dear Mr. Bud,

This week you are five years old. FIVE. Ready to count?

1.




2.



3.



4.



5.




In the words of your pre-school teacher this year, you are "pretty much a perfect little boy". You are curious and kind and energetic and smart and sweet and loving and not afraid to stand up for yourself. You love Power Rangers, sharks (Still! Though Sharky has been in semi-retirement for awhile. Don't worry- I still have him. I'm going to give him to the person you choose to marry one day, and tell them I hope you love them as much as you loved Sharky.) and your sister. Everything, every day, is all about sharing it with your sister.

(This isn't to say you always get along. No, that is definitely not the case. But for the most part, the vast majority of the time, I am beside myself with gratitude for the relationship you two share.)

You are an early riser like me. You love Lego Batman and Ninjago and Go Fish and Monopoly Junior and any other game where you can be silly. You love skating, much to my dismay, and much more to my dismay, you are really good at it.  Ugh.


The list of things you don't love is short: The dentist, roller coasters, and FOOD. That's right. FOOD. I keep waiting for the day that you figure out eating food is one of the great joys of life, but as of now, eating is your great de-motivator. You'd much rather be doing... well, anything else.

As I'm sure it will always be on your birthday, it's impossible for me to not get pretty reflective about your entry into this world. So let's go back to zero for a second, shall we?


Something very strange has happened over the last five years. The story of my pregnancy with you and your birth-- arguably one of the defining moments of my adult life-- has somehow faded. It has been condensed into, 'Yeah, that was a crazy time.' When it comes up with people I've just met, I simply say, 'I had a complicated pregnancy with Aaron,' and leave it at that. It's not that I don't want to talk about it, it's that there aren't words for it that adequately capture the whole of it. The fear those many months, that wild night you came, those long and scary days in the NICU, the cardiology visits, the healing of my own body that I am still-- five years later-- working on. 

We all have our hard times and dark moments, and at the end of all we've been through together is this:


So I am hardly sad or ungrateful. In fact, the past five years have been an exercise in real, actual gratitude that has changed my life in the most positive of ways. I'm different because of you, and all the ways that your entry into this world brought up the deepest fears in me. There's so much truth in that adage about needing darkness to appreciate the dawn. Someday, when you get out into this messed up world and make it better, you will understand this. 

But until you do, you're going to have to put up with me getting a little sentimental around your birthday. The tears I shed are ones of pure happiness, relief, and ultimately of humility. You, my beautiful birthday boy, are nothing short of a real, actual miracle. I won't forget it, and neither should you. 

Love, 
Mom

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Woman in her Thirties, Post-Grad

I would like to state for the record that I have always thought the whole pre-school graduation thing was major overkill.  I mean, seriously. Look at Aaron a couple weeks ago:


Can you even?

But as with all things in parenting, and all things as I grow older (39! What?!) my tune is starting to change. The truth is that I grew up thinking that people who changed a strongly held opinion were weak or wishy-washy. It explains why I held on to bad relationships, why I worked endlessly to prove a point in an argument that had long since blown over, why I held on (still hold on) to customs and traditions and memories. I associated stubbornness with strength.

Don't get me wrong- sometimes stubbornness is strength. Persist, ladies! You don't owe anyone a damn thing! But that conviction needs to come from within you, not from some outside source or self-imposed pressure.

I thought of this as I watch Aaron walk down the aisle to the Graduation March song, singing songs about fun and learning, holding back tears. I realized I was holding back because I'd told myself at some point that this was ridiculous, and not allowing myself to feel the feels was a difficulty I only had myself to blame for.

This has been happening a lot lately, at least for me. The realization that the person I thought I was or would be is not actually the person I am.

I had always been very sure that by age 39 I would be the grown-up version of me. And yes, in some ways I am. But the grown-up version of me has also realized that the growing up process doesn't have an end point. It's evolving constantly. It's when it stops evolving that the world seems to fall apart.

My children are now off to the final year of preschool and first grade. Which is nuts.


Soon my influence will start to become less important. Soon I won't be able to keep up with their homework. Soon they're going to have to figure out how to manage life without me constantly at their sides.

So in case I forget, or in case my own stubbornness prevents me from showing it all the time, I hope they know that it's okay to cry at graduations, it's fine to find new friends or change a belief, that evolving and changing is a totally wonderful part of life. In fact, the evolving and changing is probably the most worthwhile part of living.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Woman in Her Thirties Does Whole 30*

*if she wants to. You are beautiful exactly the way you are. Don't change.

This spring has been a season of indulgence.

I saw Hamilton:


Visited K:

And visited M in Austin:


Don't get me wrong. 2017 has been a year of getting to some important work, if you catch my drift. But I figured if I'm working hard, I'd better play hard. And we've played hard. 

When I visited K in Arizona, she told me she'd done something called Whole 30. Let me be clear about three things:
  • I firmly believe that diets are stupid
  • I have never had any weight or food issues, so I can just go straight to hell
  • Life is too short to do stupid things, like diet
But K told me that her Whole 30 experience was really transformative, and not in a weight loss way, but in all kinds of ways. She said it was like a 'reset', which stuck with me. Because after months of working and playing hard, I did feel like I wanted a reset.* 

*And let's be honest here: K told me about the Whole 30 in a way that implied that she didn't think I was capable of doing it. She basically challenged me to do it. She basically MADE me do it, now that I think about it.

At Safeway, our old hangout. We used to spend $50 for two weeks of processed junk food to sustain us through college. This time, as women in our thirties, we spent $50 on like four things and that was normal. 

So I was already leaning toward doing it, and then I read an article about how someone who'd done the Whole 30 plan had seen a huge difference with joint pain. Because I'm an eighty-year-old woman trapped in a thirty-eight-year-old's body, this resonated with me. Give up stuff and not feel like the tin man all the time? I'll try it. 

I jumped in, which is to say I bought two books with recipes and pointers for how to do it. I started a couple days before the books arrived at my house, which was a good thing, because honestly if I'd thumbed through the books before starting, I probably would have said no way. But once I had the books, I was committed. A woman in her thirties means what she says and says what she means. 

Tomorrow is my last day. Thirty whole days with no sugar, dairy, grains, or alcohol. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly, at least for me:

The Good:
  • I do not have a scale, so I don't know where I was before or after, from a numbers perspective. But there is no doubt my pants fit better, which is not shocking. Cut out the crap from what you eat and that just kind of happens. (I'm also not going to be gracing the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, either.)
  • I learned a lot about myself. A LOT. I never thought I was a stress eater-- turns out I totally am. I never realized how much sleep impacts your ability to make good decisions about food. I never realized how much sugar was in all the stuff we eat on a daily basis-- it's shocking. Learning is cool, folks!
  • I realized that I was caffeinating with sugar in the afternoons. Taking that away made me much more even keel all afternoon-- no bursts of wild energy, no lows of wishing for sleep. Just constant normalness. That was nice. 
  • I ate way more vegetables, which was better for me in lots of ways that you don't want to hear about. 
  • Starting from day 3 or 4, I got constant compliments about my skin. Everyone said I looked tan. I don't know what or how or why that is, but apparently it's the 'no crap in my system' glow. 
The Bad:
  • The people who knew I was doing this kept asking me what I missed most. The answer was gum. The thing with Whole 30 is that you're not supposed to substitute any of your sugar with fake sugar. No two-ingredient pancakes (NO PANCAKES, PERIOD). No sneaking around the rules. I love gum and chew it daily. I hated not having it, and probably so did anyone talking closely to me after my morning coffee. 
  • Whole 30 is very meat-heavy, which I didn't like. I would ideally like to eat LESS meat, not more. 
  • It was expensive. Whole Foods took a lot of my money this month. Not cool. 
  • I didn't see any results with my joints, which was a bummer. Still creaky and achy. So apparently it's not all those inflammatory foods I was eating... it's just me. Sad face. 
The Ugly:
  • I was annoying. I already am annoying enough with food, with the whole no cows-no pigs thing. I made the decision to cheat on Easter-- my MIL was cooking dinner, and I didn't want to say, 'Sorry, but you know how you offered to cook us a wonderful meal? You can't use dairy, wheat, grains, sugar, or anything else you love in it. Sorry!' That is just lame, lame, lame. I hate thinking about food, and wondering what my next meal will be. Doing Whole 30 makes you do that, which I can see would be really valuable for some people, but not so much for me.
  • I'm all about sustainability, and this isn't sustainable for me. I don't have a problem with food, so after about three weeks I started to get annoyed that I'd just created a problem by doing this thing when there wasn't one. Bread is delicious and should be eaten in moderation.  So is chocolate. Eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly, things I already do, are enough. 
I'm glad I did it though, because the most important thing it taught me was about my kids. I can't tell you how many times they offered me food this month, and I said no. 'Momma, try this cake!' No. 'Mommy, you will looooooove my string cheese!' No. They love connecting with me through food, and I love connecting with them through food. So, no more saying no to them.*

*Unless they offer me something totally gross, like sweet potatoes. 

It is really important to me that my kids don't see me dieting. Eating well, yes, and I learned a lot of tricks over the last 30 days to eat healthier which I will definitely keep up. But as far as the books and the groups go, Whole 30 is no more. No amount of compliments about my skin is worth having my daughter feel like when she's normal, she's still not enough. 

And with that, I gotta go. There's a Whole Woman-in-her-thirties-margarita out there with my name on it on Friday morning. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Woman in Her Thirties on the Other Side

(*cross-posted on www.teachablelit.com

When I was pregnant with Anna and still teaching, a colleague told me that after I became a mother I would become a different teacher. That I would be more empathetic; that I would understand more all the ways my job mattered (and didn't matter). I never got a chance to fully understand if he was right, since my teaching jobs now are very different than every day in a public school. But now that I'm on the other side of the coin, with a child now almost finished with Kindergarten, I get what he was saying. Here are a few things I've learned about school, now that I'm a parent:



1. My words really, really matter

Anna loves school. Loves. Aaron loves school so much that he cries most Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings because he can't go to school. I credit great schools and teachers for that, but I got to thinking the other day about how many times I dealt with kids who had huge chips on their shoulders about school. Teachers were always out to get them. The system was always 'stupid' or rigged. In my years teaching, I always blamed that way of thinking on being a jaded teenager. It never occurred to me that those were sentiments they were probably hearing at home, too. So even though I'm totally in support of asking questions about methodology and rationale, at home it's really important that my kids hear that I think their teachers are worth listening to and learning from.

2. Teachers don't get paid enough

I mean, who doesn't know that? But I know it so much more now, now that I'm part of supporting a family and trying to figure out budgets and college and savings plans. So many teachers are parents, too. We can't possibly think it's okay to keep them juuuuust above the poverty line, when their jobs are so important. We can't possibly put the demands we do on teachers and not compensate them for it. And yet we do.

3. It's a little, teeny tiny bit okay to miss school sometimes

I was a strict teacher in several ways, and one of those ways was with attendance. If school is in session, you go. Unless you're sick, someone is dead, or some other major calamity is going on, you get to school. I had very little patience for kids who were constantly off to long weekends to hunt or play a sport, and I had ZERO patience for the parents who sent me emails from the car telling me their kid was missing the next couple days to hang with grandma so could I please send some work.

I'm getting angry just thinking about it.

But now, on the other side, I am more understanding of this. Don't get me wrong- Disney is not an excuse to miss a week of school. And no, your family trip up north isn't equal to the learning you get in your classroom environment.  But family time is so scarce for some families (mine included), and sometimes there are some things that can be carefully calculated to be an okay-ish reason to skip school.



As long as you tell the teacher FAR in advance.

And don't email from the car.

And don't act surprised when your kid comes back to school and is behind- that is what happens when you miss school.


4. Why didn't I ask for help??

I often tell the story of the time I was photocopying the play Antigone for my sophomores because I didn't have enough copies for my class. Not only is that illegal, but it went against everything I stood for as a writer and reader. But what was I supposed to do? I needed the books and didn't have them.

It never occurred to me to send out an SOS call. I could have asked the PTO, I could have emailed the parents in my class, I could have put out a desperate plea on Facebook. I don't think it was pride that kept me from those things-- it was this weird sense that I was on my own island and that no one was supporting me.

But now, on the other side, I would welcome an email like that from my child's teacher. In fact, I just sent an email asking her if there's anything I can re-stock for her room for next year as an end-of-year gift. The parent community is there to help, and I should have asked for it when I needed it.


5. And speaking of community...

We are in this together. Principals often say things like that, how 'we are a community' and 'we are a team', but I can't say I ever truly felt that when I was teaching. I often felt like I was just trying to keep my head above water as the waves of work and expectation crashed over me. But we are a community, and those aren't just words to appease parents and board members. We are all working toward the same objective of lifelong learners. It would be awesome and transformative if we acted like it.



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Woman in her Thirties Teaches the Art of Failure

It's been a rough week for Anna. First, she got strep throat after a whirlwind weekend in Arizona. Anna is allergic to penicillin, and the first antibiotic she took made her sick. So she took another and is better now, but any woman in her thirties who has children knows that strep throat along with complications with medicine is like... the worst.

Healthier times. 

Then on Monday, someone tripped into her at the bus ramp and caused her to trip and fall on her forehead. The result was a fairly nasty goose egg, which we treated alternately with chocolate and an icepack. 

Look closely and you will see the damage...

And then there was last night. 

Let me back up. 

I have made no secret about pushing swimming on my children. Swimming is, in my mind, the perfect sport. Lifelong. Individual AND team. No helmets or blades. Low impact. Gender neutral. Plus, I was a swimmer. I know swimming. Swimming rules and that's just the bottom line. 

We've had both kids in swim lessons since about six months old. Go ahead and judge all you want, but it has been a great activity for us (despite it being a pain in the a$# a lot of time), and again, if I want swimmers, I have to start them young. And now that Anna is six, she's gotten pretty good. Certainly able to hold her own in the pool, and she loves the "fun meets" at the place we go to, where all the kids swim the width of the pool and it's not really a competition because everyone gets a ribbon. 

So last night they held try outs for the real, Pleasantville Swim Club. "Try outs" is a bit misleading... you're on the team as long as you can swim strokes and breathe with control. Anna did a great job at backstroke-- 25 meters all the way across the pool, and while she certainly wasn't fast she was definitely capable. But freestyle was a struggle. She got across, but you could tell she was working really hard. Not a lot of control in her breath. My heart sunk. 

And sure enough, she came back to me after talking to the coach and said, "The coach said I'm not ready just yet." All smiles. NBD.

I'm a teacher at heart, and I think I always will be. In my head, I know two things:
  • This is not a big deal. At all. Like not even an little tiny bit of a big deal. 
  • "Failure" is character building and an extremely important part of life and growth. 
But Anna. 

She is my baby. 

My world. 



And I know that it's important that she learn lessons though hardship, and I know setbacks will make her a strong, independent woman, but, well...

A woman in her thirties probably doesn't need to go on. If you have kids or love a kid with all your heart you know exactly what I'm saying. 

Because I don't sleep when I'm worried, upset, excited... Fine, because sleep is not exactly my strength, I was up tossing and turning all night about it. Had I pushed too hard? Too soon? Was I putting MY wants on my child without considering hers? Was I becoming the mom I always vowed I'd never be?

I am surrounded by wonderful, thoughtful women, who assure me I'm doing just fine. And my lovely Jie-Jie reminded me of this story, about how failure was the secret to this entrepreneur's success. So I'm okay now, and might actually sleep tonight! Hooray!

Inspired, I went out a bought a chocolate cake today to celebrate two things: The first and most important being Anna, how great she did at try-outs, and her (seriously ridiculously) mature attitude about just trying again next time. 


And I bought the cake for me. For being the imperfect mom who loves her so much and will be beside her every step of her way. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Woman in her Thirties and the Happy Year of No

The last six weeks or so have been just lovely. Truly. I'm not being sarcastic. After a craptastic year of 2016, culminating in the worst ear infection known to man (almost three weeks of hearing loss! Awful!), I made myself a promise that 2017 would be better. And it has been. 

Don't get me wrong. I haven't gone on any crazy vacations. I didn't hit the lotto. L's travel is just... well, let's not talk about it. Work is busy. The kids are awesome (but busy). Life is exactly the same as it was.



But the difference is my implementation of The Year of No. 

I've mentioned several times that I'm the perfect person for New Year's Resolutions. I'm a woman of my word, and when I make a promise, I see it through. So making myself the promise to start saying no more intentionally wasn't just shooting from the hip for me. It was a calculated tactic to deal with the utter insanity of 2016. I'm sick to death of being a yes-(wo)man. No is my new word. 

This is not to say I haven't done stuff. 'No' hasn't meant sitting home with Netflix when I could be out doing something that makes me happy. Part of my self-realization this past December when I felt myself falling into some serious doldrums was that I love being busy. I love my job. I love my kids. I love having great friends and the desire to do more. I love doing stuff. 

But I want to do my stuff. IT IS TIME FOR ME TO DO MY STUFF. 

For me, 'my stuff' has included attending some really interesting educational talks, a day where I worked only on my third book (and got over a major plot hurdle. YAY!), a short weekend away to SF to celebrate a birthday and also spend time with some really important people in my life, seeing a movie with my Minnesota besties, and spending a lot of evenings hanging with the other man in my life: Harry Potter. (I'm almost done with book 4.)

I also cut off four inches of hair. (I want to cut off another four.)

And bought tickets to Hamilton next month. (GAH!!)

And started using Instacart more. (Heaven.)

And said 'I just don't want to', when I felt peer pressured to go out for drinks the other night. (Amazing how quickly that will shut people up, when you are just honest with them.)

I say no to volunteering for things I don't feel passionate about. I place at least two immovable yoga sessions per week on my calendar. I hire sitters when I need them and feel zero guilt. I turn down activities that don't appeal to me. I say no even when I could say yes, simply because saying no gives me more time for me. And when I give more to myself, I'm able to give more to others. These guys, in particular:




I started this blog eight years ago, thinking I was pretty wise about the world. A woman in her thirties wears pearls. A woman in her thirties doesn't buy cheap wine. All of that might be true, but the truest thing so far for me now, at thirty-eight, is this:

A WOMAN IN HER THIRTIES SAYS NO. 

Thus, she is liberated.