In just a few minutes from now

Speak your wisdom here,
in the mirror; she’s wearing
headphones anyway.
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Well, it has happened. My oldest, a girl, has turned 13. She is a teenager, and I guess that means I am now the parent of a teenager. I have been reading beautiful “letters to my daughter” writings, full of motherly wisdom. They all provide guidance to help their offspring navigate the rocky life ahead. I thought about writing something similar to my girl, but it felt fake. Instead, I’m drawn to write a letter to myself… here goes.

Dear Me,

Hi. So I know you heard the news. Your baby girl is growing up. Yes, she became taller than you several months ago (not a difficult feat, mind you, but a humbling/proud moment nonetheless). And her feet are longer than yours (again, nothing to brag about since your feet stop growing at 32 months).  But now another milestone has been crossed… and with each of those, a little part of you falls away. As someone said to you — or did you make it up yourself — being a parent is ‘one long letting go’, and several feet of holding on just ran between your slack hands.

You have 3 years until she is driving. Not even 6 years to college. And your boy is only 4 years behind her.  You have got to get your shit together, and fast. Here’s my advice to you.

That voice in your head is routing itself to your mouth way too often. It is bad enough that it tortures you with stories of ‘not enough’ and inadequacies.  But it used to be further away, separate from you. Now it seems to have sidled up to you, almost like a lover, pressing closely against you — so close its voice is becoming your voice. And as you allow it external voice, you lose your best self.  But here’s the deal: your best self – even your mediocre, haven’t-showered-in-days PMS-y self — is so much better than that shitbag voice in your head. Quit letting it speak for you and fast.  In 10 years (who am I kidding, in 10 minutes) you are going to hear that voice come out of your 13 year old and your heart will break. Make a change.

Your life is so much better than you allow.   You’ve dressed up longing and are pretending it is a vision board.  Stop. Stop longing for a life where you aren’t tired. Stop longing for a job that fulfills you 100% all the time. Stop longing for that ‘thing’ (artwork, clothing, knowledge, vacation, sheets) and quit deluding yourself that it will cure something, fill in something, create something different in your life. It won’t. And you know why? Because if/then statements are bullshit.  If I (lose weight, make more money, buy a vacation home, cut my hair) … then I will be (content, pretty, zen like, able to…). Blah de blah blah.   You know what isn’t bullshit? The life you have right now.  This is way more than gratitude. This about being present in your life and recognizing how amazing you have it.  You want your teenager to appreciate what you provide? Then you better appreciate what you have, right now, with no if/then, no more accumulation, no numbing out.

Be more mindful of where you are choosing to spend your time.   Take stock every few days… if you’ve read more words on Facebook than your family has shared together… well, perhaps that isn’t your highest choice.   I know you tell yourself that you are relaxing when you surf online, but you and I know that’s crap.   And spending 30 minutes more at work isn’t making you more successful.  Of course you need to do that sometimes, but you allow it to matter when really it doesn’t.   Start paying attention and see whether your choices take you toward the life you want; chances are you’ll easily make another choice.

Midlife has brought you a strong desire to find significance in your life, but all the stuff mentioned above has blinded you to how the everyday moments are chock full of what you seek. Our lives are 99% daily living, 1% extra-special moments. If you think that significance is only in the 1% you are doomed. There is significance all around you. Every day.  Please start looking for it. Because frankly, in just a few minutes from now, a few more years will have passed. Trust me on that one.

Love,
Me

Do your new reading glasses make my ass look fat? The evolution of a marriage…

Small, square, the ad read:
“…A cuddly renaissance dude…”
With that, I was hooked.
———————————————-

Today I celebrate 19 years of wonderful marriage to Frank. Wow. Nine-teen. That’s a lot. We’ve known each other 20 years – yikes!  that’s like two decades! It has both felt like a very short period of time and like forever, because it seems I can’t recall much before we met.

I’m not sure I’m going to add anything new to the “anatomy of a marriage” genre, but I thought a trip down memory lane would be fun to write. So I present to you my marriage, in 6 stages:

Dating, 14 months: We spent a lot of time at my apartment. I lived alone and it was snuggly.  During this time Frank killed a rat in my apartment (the rat had the strength of 10 men and the daring of a playboy centerfold; I was terrified). He took me sledding for the first time in my life (winter snow is a little thin on the ground in middle Georgia).  It was a lovely place and a lovely time. I enjoyed our courtship a great deal. (I know, I know, who the hell calls it a courtship…)

Marriage years zero to 4: Our first apartment together. I moved in first, a few weeks before the wedding. I knew when the washer and dryer arrived the day after I moved in — my first major appliance purchase ever, let alone with another person — that this was serious. Why the 100 wedding invitations and the white dress hanging in the closet didn’t also convey this, I don’t know. But the washer and dryer… that was it. It was a great apartment. All new building, third floor on the back. We could watch the fireworks at Kings Island every night from the deck (ok, so you had to stand at one end and lean over the railing a little). We lit fires in the fireplace (also a novelty to this childhood victim of gas heat).  We sat on the floor and ate on the glass-topped coffee table in front of the TV so often I made a little table-cloth. (It currently lays folded on a shelf 4 feet from me now; we’ve never been able to part with it.) When we started rehabbing my husband’s childhood home, spending all but sleeping hours elsewhere, the place felt less lived in. Imagine my surprise then when we moved out in 1997: I sobbed uncontrollably at the loss of our first marital home. Even Frank shed a tear.

Homeowners, Part 1: We were virtually immobile for the first 2 years of our life in this home. The previous 18 months of near constant rehabbing had stripped us of our youthful vigor (being newly married and mostly broke, we did almost all the work ourselves. We started by removing the entire roof, trusses and all, and setting new trusses with a crane, if that gives you an indication of how much work we did…). The walls remained boring beige. The last few bits of rehab went untouched for years. But we enjoyed being homeowners. Frank bought me a go-kart disguised as a lawn mower which I joyfully drove like a maniac every summer weekend. I planted a few vegetables. I took a landscape class and redid the front yard. Frank put in a concrete driveway that could withstand the landing pressure of the space shuttle.  Five years after moving in, and nearly 10 years into our marriage, we decided to start a family and quickly (and thankfully) after that, our daughter was born. (I loved painting her nursery (thanks Teneal!) and would silently weep when years later it was undone by another family.) We had cats and house plants and relatives next door and across the street. It was a good party house and the vaulted ceiling hosted a 12 foot tall Christmas tree each year. When we sold the house in 2005 to the first people who looked at it, we were pleased someone who appreciated our hard work, craftmanship and obvious love of the place had purchased it.

The Expat Years: In 2005 we moved to England for my job; Frank became a stay at home dad. We learned to drive on the other side of the road and call it rubbish and motorway and car park and mum. I loved it… and it was hard. Redefining your roles in a marriage and as parents isn’t easy, and often I struggled balancing work (and my perceived higher expectations being an expat) with being a second-in-command parent with being a mom with being a wife with wanting some alone time. But we learned to go with the flow.  Two years into it our son was born and I watched with amazement as my husband grew into an expanded role as caregiver and home-keeper and I chilled out about being the primary breadwinner and an expat. Although we were happy to come back to the US in 2008, I will always love England. I never did fully say goodbye to our rental home there… not sure why.

Growth & Maturation: Remember 2008? Gas prices were sky high? House prices were rock bottom? We returned then, rented a home and stood ready to finally build a house on the 5 acres we had purchased in 2000 in a dream location in the country. But we had to wait. Had to get one kid in school and one in daycare. I had to get used to a new job with what seemed like a 24 hour clock. Frank had to restart his engineering business. And we had to decide on how to proceed with building the house.  Have Frank be the general contractor or use a builder? Will the bank loan us the money in this economy? The house we designed will cost HOW MUCH to build? Meet with the architect and redesign the house smaller with fewer bells and whistles. Revisit the budget, crunch some numbers. Argue with the homeowners association that we weren’t quite yet ready to build… These were the longest 18 months of our marriage I think. My son wasn’t getting along in day care; we were falling deeper in love with our daughters school 45 minutes in the opposite direction from our 5 acres. Did we really want the custom home? Was country living really the right thing for our little family? Was day care really the best option for AB at this time? Did we want a nice house but no money for vacation for the next 20 years, or some other path? When the universe presented to me, one January afternoon in 2010, a 4 bedroom house less than one mile from school on over an acre… an English Tudor no less… with one of those rock bottom prices nearly half of the dream home’s… well, the rest as they say is history. It was one of the most mature things we ever did – picking the collective future of our family over an old dream that didn’t really fit anymore. It was like finally parting with that really cool pair of designer pants that you bought on deep sale at Saks on a whim… they fit, but you never really had the right place to wear them, but you couldn’t bear throwing them out.  Selling the 5 acres felt like taking those pants to Goodwill. You know it’s the right thing, but you still wonder if you made the right decision – will you have just the right event to wear them to come up in a few days…

Homeowners, Part 2, No regrets: 2010 – to present.   I love my marriage. I love my kids and husband and the family we make. I love my house. I (mostly) love my job. We have a good dog and a short commute.  We sold 5 acres of specialty property in a down economy. We can take a vacation each year. The cars are healthy. I have to honestly say I am more content now than I have ever been. Don’t get me wrong — the first 19 years have been wonderful and I’m happy for the journey (and often dumbfounded at my good luck that started with reading that personal ad one NyQuil-drunk March evening…). And yet right now, everything seems to have come together at the same time. I have always mocked those 40-ish actresses who report that their 40s are sooo much better than their 20’s and 30’s. That they know themselves better, feel more comfortable with themselves, etc etc. I don’t feel like I have that level of self awareness – I have no clue if I “know myself better” or not. However, when viewed through the lens of the last 20 years… of the evolution of my married life, well then I must agree. It is, right now, the best. Amongst all the really amazing and wonderful great times, now is the best.

All my love, Frank. So very glad you picked me.

Am I being replaced?

Sitting here jealous
of homework and puppy walks.
I don’t wanna work.

”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

The change has been quite subtle… My daughter would run to Dad as much as me when she hurt herself and needed comfort. And then the kids would call me Dad (granted, they would call him Mom).  But a few weeks ago was the hardest blow… my stay-at-home-dad-husband did a very mom thing. He was thoughtful. As in “full of thought”. He thought ahead, planned and did something for one of the kids that officially granted him entry into mom-hood.

I was devastated.

I’m ok being called Dad. Hell, I go through a rolodex of names when I talk to my kids too. But I always saw myself as occupying unique space as “The Mom”. I thought ahead enough to buy the birthday gift before day of the party.  I realized that my girl was sad and needed comfort before the tears arrived.  I was sensitive, I was interpreting what was important and I was acting to avoid a problem. And dammit if he didn’t do just that.

If I were honest with myself, I’d admit that I was hoping this would happen. It can be exhausting being the only one who thought this way and I often bemoan (in my own petty little head) that he “just doesn’t get it”. But I’d be lying if I didn’t take some martyr like satisfaction from thinking no one could do this job but me; that no matter what, I am mom and therefore better. And slowly now I’ve had to get used to sharing the spot light.

When we both worked, no matter what, I was still the chief parent.  We only had the one kid then, and she preferred me; I made a lot of the rules; I made a lot of the kid decisions (yes, some exaggeration, but not a lot…I’m not a wench, it just mostly works out that way when you’re the mom, right?).  And then, he became chief parent, he was in charge most of the time – and I tumbled in stature.  It was very hard for me to get used to.  Still, I lived off the fact that both kids would prefer to hang out with me rather than with dad if given the choice.  And I was sure I still had a unique skill set that the Y chromosome was incapable of duplicating.

Snf snf. I was wrong. I’ll get over it.  Statistically speaking he was bound to do something like that at some point, and it hasn’t happened again since then so there’s still hope. But there’s no going back.  Right now, and likely for a while, this is the right choice for our family, all things considered. My life is blessed and I’m more settled right now then I’ve been in a while, much in part to how wonderfully this set up is working.  It’s just that the view is different from this position and I’m not sure I’ll ever be totally ok with that…

Making Choices – My 5 Roles

Embrace the choices:
They map your way forward and
Soothe the looks backward.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

I learned something a few years ago from an executive at my company that has helped me with my work/life balance. He (yes, it was a he) hypothesized that each of us can reasonably have 5 roles in life that we are committed to. A role is something like wife or mother or tennis player or gardener.  If we decide to take on more than 5 roles, and want to fully commit to those roles (meaning we want to do them well), then he claimed something or someone will suffer.

I’ve been experimenting with this concept for a few years now and I think he is right.  Once I started thinking in these terms, I quit beating myself up for not “doing/having it all,” a self doubt-a-thon that I think many working moms engage in.  Instead, I decided that “having it all” was as simple as focusing on these 5 roles such that I was doing them well. Not perfectly, not full on all the time, but in a consistent way, with focus.  If I am able to do that, then I count myself successful, consider myself living the dream, and cut myself some slack on the things I’m not doing.  How powerful would it be if we could all see 5 reasonably well-executed roles as cause for celebration.

That isn’t to say that this is easy. Take a look at my current list of 5 roles.

  1. Wife (this is purposefully first, because it is too easy to make it last; I still struggle to give him as much time as I’d like)
  2. Mother (there may be a time when I won’t need to have this on the list, but not for a long time…)
  3. Employee (another “not really a choice” choice for our family, but still, have to acknowledge it is a role and it takes time)
  4. Healthy person (writing it down gives me permission to choose a work-out over coming home early)
  5. Writer/Blogger (new this year, yeah! Finally made it to the top 5)

These may seem obvious choices, to you, but to help dimensionalize how hard it is to pick the top 5, let’s list some of the things that didn’t make my list.

Daughter. Gasp! Really!?!? How can I do that? First, it doesn’t mean I don’t call my parents. It just means than I don’t focus time and attention on cultivating that role. Time and attention would probably mean more trips South to see them; a regularly scheduled phone call; more emails; home-made videos of the kids, etc. But I haven’t made this choice. So we talk about every 2 weeks while I’m driving home from work or on a random weekend when I get a moment. There may come a time in the future when their health drives “daughter” right back on the list, but I’ll clearly know it can’t be an incremental role, something will have to go.

Housekeeper.  If you ever visit me you will find dust. And likely a floor that needs to be swept assuming you can find it under the toys. If you are lucky enough to see upstairs, then you’ll see unmade beds and likely a dirty sock on the floor. Get over it. It isn’t a priority – I don’t put money or more than minimal time against this role. We don’t live in squalor (don’t worry, the kitchen and bathrooms are quite clean, the clothes are washed – even I have standards), and I do clean the house on a regular-ish basis, but I’m sure there are those out there who would frown if they visited.

House rehabber. This was a role last year (when writer wasn’t on the list). That’s because last year was our first full year in this amazing 86-year-old house which requires a lot of time and attention (not to mention money). Last year we focused on the house. This year, we don’t need to as much.

Sister.  Just like my daughter role, I don’t make this a priority.

Friend. There is an amazing women’s group that I get together with once a month. But I don’t have “girl friend” time the rest of the month for the most part.  Facebook keeps us connected, but I don’t foster the relationships like I see other people do.  I work with people I consider friends, and I like the moms of kids at school, so the itch gets scratched in those ways, but that’s it.  Sometimes I miss this…

Are there drawbacks to these choices? Sure there are. If it were painless, then it probably wouldn’t really be a choice.   But what keeps me committed to this concept is this:  when I think about how (even more) stretched I’d be if I also tried to put effort against more than 5, I realize none would be done well, and that is something I’m not willing to sacrifice.

Do I do some things outside of my roles? Of course, but I recognize that they will get less investment and thus lower returns. Or, I rethink my definition of it. For instance,  I’m a girl scout troop leader. Is that a new role or a “mother” role? I did it at my daughter’s request, so frankly I think of it as something special we do together – mother role, check.   I also keep a garden in the summer – is that another role? If you saw my garden you would agree it was NOT a focus area for me. Instead, I get the kids involved (harvesting carrots this year was a riot) or I treat it as exercise (healthy person role).  Again, you might see this as cheating, but I approach it holistically and it makes it easier. This doesn’t need to be any harder than it already is.

Lastly, you might ask “where are you on the list”? Healthy person – that is broadly defined to cover all the things I do to take care of my mental and physical health. Sleep in when I can, no work in the evenings when possible, Pilates class, etc.  Make sure you have you on your list too.

Being intentional… or why I threw out my crappy mattress pads

Devil mattress pad
refusing to yield… brings me
to my knees, weeping

 

I am a working mom.    I sort of no longer believe in work-life balance… instead, I’m all about being intentional about what I’m doing — being choiceful about what gets my attention, my money and my time.  Across time, these choices make me happy.  So, here are a few things I’m choosing (and also refusing to feel guilty about).

Dirty shower curtains. Why do I spent time and chemicals to make these clean? They cost $4.99. I’m throwing it away when it gets cruddy looking and buying a new one.

Mattress pads that are a bitch to put on. A few months ago, I threw out every unrelenting mattress pad I owned. Life is too short to stroke out over mattress pads that are too small/have shrunk. I came to this decision during a middle of the night bed soaking during potty training. (There is a special kind of hell at 3am when you can’t get the god*&$@ mattress pad on the bed and your kid is slumped in the chair, now dry, whining, ready to go back to bed, and you realize your first conference call is in 4 hours…) So this is a slightly more expensive decision than the first one, but I don’t care. They are a pain in the ass and have to go.

A company-ready house. I have a new phrase to describe my house when we have visitors – “well lived in”. My stay at home husband keeps the kitchen spotless, the kids happy, the clothes clean, the pantry stocked, the yard mowed. He really isn’t into dusting; straightening happens irregularly… I can either be pissed about it,  do it myself, or get over it. I mostly pick door number three. Every once in a while I go a little ballistic and tear around the house picking up things: returning the coat hanger in the dining room to the laundry room; corralling the hot wheels into a single vessel; combing through the accumulation of crap on the front table (you know the stuff – no one knows where to put it so they put it here? I throw it away).  I think about how if I only spent 30 minutes a day at this, it would all stay under control. But I always find something else more compelling to do. Imagine that.

Not using every last ounce of shampoo/body wash/toothpaste. The effort required to extract the last 5 cents worth of stuff from a tube or bottle these days isn’t worth it. I’m all for being thrifty, but after three days of “bottle farts” – you know, when you leave it upside down and then squeeze it hard to get something out, and then stuff does come out — everywhere, messy, making a noise that would embarrass you in public… well, at this point I pitch the damn thing over the shower curtain in the direction of the garbage can and pull out a new one.  Frankly, after one day of bottle farts these days I give up. 

Chicken nuggets and Kraft Mac & Cheese. Enough said.

Paying extra for a good haircut and styling products. I seem incapable of controlling my weight, my kid’s behavior (at times), my acne… but I can get and keep a decent hair cut. So that’s where I spend some money. No matter what, the hair looks ok. It makes me happy.

So there they are: small choices that make my life easier and bring me peace, leaving me more time to focus on the important stuff.  What about you? What would you add to this list?

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