Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day and Migraines

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, maybe a laundry service.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What Color is Your Grass?

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

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

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

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

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

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

This wasn't a choice. I was unprepared.

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

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

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

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

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

What parts of your yard need cultivating?

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Quiet After the Storm

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

The all encompassing lack of noise, commitments, thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Tipping the Scales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Blank Pages

January 1 dawns on us all as another new year. The opportunity to start fresh, to mend those not so healthy/productive/soul-filling ways. We clink the glasses, we sip the bubbly, we smooch our sweethearts and find ourselves filled with the excitement and possibility of a new year.

Then the holiday shimmer wears off. The empty champagne bottle clangs into the recycle bin. The Christmas tree sits brittle by the road with the other yard waste pick up bags. The presents are unpacked and played with, yet still have not found homes on the shelves or in the closet. The kids are getting on each other's nerves. The holiday outfits are at the dry cleaner. The alarm clock is set again after days of non-use. The gyms are crowded. The grocery store's baking aisle no longer beckons (as loudly). The resolutions bending, if not already broken.

This year, I made no promises to myself. I made no expectations of the new year. We hiked New Year's Eve day by the Chattahoochee and enjoyed discovering new trails as a family. We stayed up late and played games and watched movies. The seven year old made it to midnight. I felt myself seduced by a new year's new hopes, fell asleep happy and woke up ready to tackle 2014.

Then, I experienced another a-fib episode while bending over to pick up a toy on the floor. For 40 minutes, I felt my heart beat erratically as if it was trying to escape my rib cage. I cried. I breathed deeply. I apologized incessantly for my defectiveness. And I vowed not to care about the "new" year. Not that it isn't important or exciting or thrilling to make new promises, set goals and enthusiastically go about reaching them. I'm a big believer in all those things. But I wanted more regular. More normal. More steady, dependable heart beats. More moments.

Yes. I'd like a bigger home. Yes. I'd like to live closer to our families. Yes. I'd like the day-to-day drudgery to be easier. Yes. I'd like to write more. Yes. I'd like to travel more. Yes. I'd like all of those things. But what do I have? A husband who doesn't just worry about whether I'm happy, but whether I'm fulfilled. Two beautiful, smart, hilarious, frustrating, snuggle bug boys who still fit on my lap and nestle under my chin and hug me with all their growing, bony angles. A home that is warm, mine and filling with more and more memories each day. A job that is challenging and flexible. Dreams that still whisper and tempt me in all the best possible ways.

I don't need to be seduced by what could be better when things are actually pretty damn good.

So similar to the blank pages I hope to fill with words of color and emotion when I write, I am treating this new year as just days filled with blank pages. Some may be written with new events and new people. Others may be familiar as nursery rhymes or as boring as grocery lists. But every day will be filled by me. By me and my moments. By the moments that make up our life. A life that is beautiful and messy and constantly evolving.

This year, I resolve nothing but the blank page. I can't wait to see what story our lives have written on it this time next year. The best part? The story will only continue.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Priceless Gem

"What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. Or the crisp October nights or the memory of dogwoods blooming."

Charles Kuralt offered his own answer to this question during his speech at the UNC Bicentennial in 1993.

That day, I was a fresh-faced, idealistic high school senior, anxious about my future, unsure of what the next step would be and where I would choose to take it. Sitting in Kenan Stadium that day, although I had grown up nestled in the Piedmont of the old North State, I became a Tar Heel. That speech had something to do with it. As did President Clinton's. As did the enormity of the situation. But what truly sealed the deal for me that fall afternoon was the boundless, electrifying oneness of the crowd. The pride, the camaraderie, the feeling that we were all connected by this one, finite, beautiful place.

Near and far, alumni of UNC Chapel Hill all seem to carry a torch for this place. Sure, it's college where many of us finally come into our own, discover ourselves, find a home, a friend, a love. But still. It's so much more. I've seen it in a few other faces for a very small set of other schools. It's rare. But it exists outside of Chapel Hill. When you see it, you know.

I'm not sure if it's the brick walks, the Old Well, the stone walls, the chiming of the tower, the football stadium nestled in the pines or the dome settled in the valley below South Campus, the academics, the banners in the rafters, the accolades, the faculty, the blue cups, the chicken biscuits after the blue cups or some sprinkling of them all. But I have a feeling a lot of it for many of us has to do with what happened today.

Today, Coach Dean Smith received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. My Facebook feed has been blowing up with articles and pictures and congratulatory messages posted by my UNC-alumni friends. I started to wonder why we cared so much? Why did this honor pull so many of me and my Carolina blue brethren in? And the answer was not that we're a basketball school and therefore fanatics about all that is Carolina basketball, although I'm sure that may be true for one or two.

What I think it really is is that same mysterious thread, that little lifeline that pulls us back to dogwoods blooming on Gimghoul and azaleas blazing around the Old Well. The same whisper that urges us to yell "PRICELESS GEM" with all our might during the alma mater.

Dean Smith exemplified a life lived with integrity. A life that was concerned more with doing what was right, not necessarily winning ball games. Although the secret is that by doing what was right, his teams ended up wining ball games. A lot of them. And his players ended up graduating college. A whole helluva lot of them.

Dean Smith was the coach who instilled the thank the passer point, the idea being that you acknowledge who helped you achieve the score. You see it as the players run backwards back down the court after a big play, fingers extended, pointing at the passer.

And that, my Carolina friends, is what I think binds us to this place. Sure, Charles' argument that it is the University of the People is a great point. But...

Without Carolina I wouldn't have achieved what I have today. Without Carolina I wouldn't have the friends I have today. Without Carolina I may not have the family I have today.

Thank you Coach Smith, for living your life by such exemplary standards. Thank you for your contributions to the court, the college and the community. Thank you for reminding me through your award today that I have neglected to thank the passer for a long, long time.

So today, Chapel Hill, I'm pointing at you. Thank you.