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.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


This fall has tested my mettle.

I'm spending more days in the office. Not just more days, but really every minute that both boys are occupied at school is a moment that I'm in the office. Although that's great for getting work done, it's put pressure on how to accomplish school volunteering opportunities, running errands in a timely manner and exercising (remember that yoga high I was on? Haven't been to a class since this summer). Add to that increasing school responsibilities for my 7 year old (book reports in the first grade?), being co-president of our neighborhood ladies club and attempting to keep the house relatively functional and I have often felt at my wit's end this fall.

It was already weighing on me emotionally and then the stomach flu found three out of four of us. Not just any stomach flu, but the one that laid the adults up in bed for 48 hours and took a week before we felt a semblance of normal again. That put us all behind the proverbial 8-ball and amped my panic meter to 11.

With the holidays approaching, I've been freaking out a bit. And by a bit, I mean a lot. I'm fussing at the hubby about needing support but unsure what really to ask for. I'm short with the kids. I'm frustrated that I can barely get done what I HAVE to get done not to mention feeling the things I WANT to get done slip through my fingers - exercise, write, read a magazine without thinking about the laundry I should be doing since the boys are out of clean underwear.

Then, I went to book club. Ah, book club. Books are my salvation. No matter how busy I am, I always have time to read. Before bed, in car pool, while eating breakfast. I sneak it in whenever I can. If I'm not reading a book, I feel unmoored. So of course I wasn't going to miss my monthly book club. Particularly because the author was coming to join our group to discuss the book.

First off, I loved the book. I highly recommend it. I'm not just saying that because the author happens to be a very sweet woman, although she is, or because I am always fascinated by Poe's stories, although I am. It's just a compelling read with complex characters that are navigating the constantly shifting tectonics of the day, its social morays and their own moral compasses.

I'm off track - see what books do to me? - because what I mean to say is that this author, this woman, this mother of three spoke wise words to me that have kindled an awakening fire: Keep writing.

Yes, I know. Every book on writing, every author in a tip article, every English teacher ever always says to the aspiring writer: Just keep writing.

What was different this time is the context -- that this woman who has been in my shoes, who put aside her personal work for her children's early days and eventually came out the other side to live her dream of being a writer said to me that each step is another step closer.

So I may not be able to work on that novel huddled away in a folder on my desk top as often as I'd like or write here on this blog as much as I used to or even journal more than once every few months. But the fact that I do any of those things at all at any interval is keeping me on the right path.

I find myself inspired by that reassurance. I find my characters voices whispering to me again, very faintly, but there. It may take me years, I may be insanely frustrated that it isn't happening at the snap of my fingers, but only I can make it happen at all. And every step is a step forward.

(It didn't hurt that this lovely woman flattered me by saying she liked my writing. A little ego-stroking can be inspiring, too, and who am I to waste that?)

As the holidays bear down, as the task list grows longer, as I remember I still need to track down my flu shot, I am going to take a deep breath, take a realistic look at how I spend my days and do a better job of working in the wants. Even if it's just a 15 minute yoga session with my handy app or a game of tag with the kids to squeeze in some exercise my body; even if it's a snippet in a journal during car pool or a commitment to check in with my characters while the hubby has the kids in the bath to exercise my creativity, I am going to accept the challenge that my inspiration is taunting me with.

What challenges do you need to accept?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Making Magic

There are things we do as parents for our children that they will never fully appreciate simply because, to them, they just happen. Things like clothes, food, a treat in their lunch box. One day, they may grasp the fact that there are a number of people in this world who don't have that type of security, but I'm happy to let them save that lesson for later.

Then there are things we do as parents that we hope will be memories that end up looking like cautionary tales. The special trips we plan that somehow get marred by a too long car ride or bad weather or an ill-timed fever.

Then there are days like today. The spontaneous, fabulous, magic days that you have to stop and say thank you to the universe for because they are just that perfect.

Today was the last regular season game for the Braves. Our last chance to catch a game this season as a family. We tried to go to a game a few weekends ago, but our plan was thwarted by a very feverish three year old. But our oldest kept bringing it up, asking to go to another game. With the weather perfect, a Sunday with nothing but chores on the agenda and tickets still available, we decided to go.

And it was a blast. We danced in our seats. We did the wave. There were Cracker Jack and Dippin' Dots and beer (for those of us of-age). There was sunshine and scoring lessons and home runs. There was laughter and silliness and smiles galore.

Then, as the Braves left the field with a 12-5 win, we traipsed our way around and around and around until we found the end of the line to run the bases (a Sunday post-game tradition for kids attending the game). After nearly an hour of winding our way back around the line, then out onto the warning track of Turner Field, our kids lined up to take their turn around the base line.

The thousands of stands enveloping the green grass, the crunch of the track, the dome of the blue sky. There is magic and romance and timelessness standing on a baseball field.

Our boys ran those bases with abandon. Most of the kids forgot to tag home plate and instead headed for the exit just short of it. The 7 year old, however, jumped on that plate with gusto and a grin a mile wide on his face. The little guy slid. He actually slid towards home. Feet first, not belly, but still. That kid has style!

Watching them, so small on a field so vast, being kids, seeing their joy, I couldn't help but get teary. I'm still smiling about it hours later.

The seven year old announced that running the bases was a dream come true.

Funny, because after being with them today and watching the magic happen, one of my dreams came true, too.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


We have nearly two full months of this school year under our belts around here and it's safe to say we're getting our sea legs. The morning routine is running relatively smoothly, the car pools are worked out for after school karate, the volunteer slots are in the calendar, the pantry and fridge are full of the additional snacks needed to get through a long school day, my work schedule is finally a reliable schedule again and things are puttering along in a safely predictable manner. 

And yet, I wouldn't be writing if there wasn't something unusual happening. 

When I got pregnant, my mom idol (another mom of two boys who seems to have her world together with just the right combination of discipline and laissez-faire-ness whose house seems to always be clean and her boys well behaved and generous) congratulated me with the promise of more time because two kids, "they will play together!" 

I have a sister. I understood the concept of sibling play. I honestly didn't get why this was such a revelation or gift. 

Until now. 

This summer, the boys definitely caught on to having each other as play mates. Their three year age difference an issue, but less so this year than last. They can both hold their own in suggesting pretend games, they are getting better at using sentences rather than fists to persuade the other to their preferred mode of play and their interests are evolving in a way that allows them to come together over a common ninja problem rather than Darth Vader battling the Island of Sodor with tears as the result of a track destroyed by the force.

But the long days of summer were sometimes too long or too much together time or spent shuttling one kid to camp and the other to a play date and fitting in pool time. Not to mention the rain. The all consuming, unending, soul crushing rain that has defined the Summer of 2013 in Atlanta. 

So I was moderately surprised to realize that my afternoons are relatively breezy after school. The 7 year old gets off the bus, watches a show (we've found it's the best way to allow him to peacefully decompress from a busy day and loud bus ride), completes his homework and then he and his brother play. Together. Until dinner. 

Sure, I have to break up the occasional disagreement or moderate a "he won't do it my way" standoff, but all in all, my afternoons are suddenly free of hard core, involved play responsibilities. Part of me is thrilled to not have to play Candy Land 30 times an afternoon, but the other part of me is sad to know they don't need me as much anymore. The silver lining, other than the Candy Land thing, is that they now have each other. They build tracks and race cars and create scenarios and chase and ride bikes and scooters on the sidewalk in front of the house and make a holy mess of their room, the playroom, the living room. 

So I am adjusting to having time in the afternoon to read a magazine article, make a bed or sneak in some work. 

But I am relishing those days when a little voice calls from the play room, "Mom, will you play Legos with me?" 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A New Appreciation

I was the neighborhood babysitter when I was in middle and high school. I loved it. I had several families in our small little hood that I sat for regularly - the C's had me over every Wednesday after school to watch their two little ones while the mom was taking classes at a local university, the Cr's who had me over every Tuesday night so they could attend a couple's church group, and the G's with two very rambunctious boys who used me regularly for much-needed nights out and during the summers for what I can now only imagine were afternoons that the mom simply wanted some peace and quiet.

The G's house always made me nervous. It was always so immaculate when I arrived, morning, noon or night. You could see the vacuum lines in the carpet, everything was always put in its place, the counters clutter free and the bathrooms sparkled. I was always terrified the boys would destroy it while I was there, convinced they must be neater when I wasn't around and that my inability to maintain such a high bar of cleanliness would be reflected in my take home pay.

Before their parents would come home, I'd make sure every Lincoln log and car were safely stowed, the counters wiped down again (even if all I'd done was dish out some Goldfish), I was known to even vacuum occasionally to ensure a spotless home upon their return.

I somehow made the assumption that they must have just lived in a constant state of clean and I was in awe.

Now, as the mom of two boys, I often think of the Gs. I see their bouncing youngest son in my own never-sit-still-unless-I'm-sleeping younger one. I hear the know-it-all remarks from their oldest in mine when he feels compelled to correct my mistake(s). And I especially think of their mother on days like today - where I spent the better part of the afternoon hiding clutter, putting away toys, wiping down bathrooms and vacuuming in advance of the babysitter we have coming tonight.

There is no way that woman lived in a nirvana state of cleanliness. Not with the level of activity her boys could muster. I see now that she was probably like me - a gal raised to clean up a bit for company, who wants the world to think she's got it together and doesn't want to air her dirty laundry (quite literally) for the outside world to see.

I know I shouldn't care. I know my home is well taken care of, although far from eat off the floor clean. I know my boys are typically (fairly) well behaved for our sitters, but I still worry that these girls will come into my home and judge my mothering on the state of my refrigerator organization or a layer of dust on the DVD player or the papers exploding off the desk in want of signatures, file folders and a trash can.

All I can do is remind myself of my moments with the G family. Sure, I remember their clean house, but I also remember consoling a distraught toddler through a bit of separation anxiety. I remember giggles after building and, of course, destroying many a block tower. I remember two tow headed boys that, although they did in fact try my patience with a streak of Dennis the Menace mischief, were funny and fun to be around.

I hope that these various girls we have that watch our boys take away similar memories of my boys. Moments of fun, silliness and sweetness.

No matter what they think of the state of our kitchen floors, which are filthy, by the way.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Another School Year, Another School Shooting

Every morning, we rush our little guy out the door with pleading voices to brush your teeth, grab your back pack, get dressed, don't miss the bus. We breathe a sigh of relief after he boards the bus for another day of learning in the first grade, confident we've provided him with a healthy breakfast, a hug and kiss, a treat tucked away in the lunch box.

Then, one day, I get in the car to breaking news. Another school shooting. This one just 10 short miles down the road. Confusion about who fired shots. A suspect in custody. An AK-47.

During kindergarten last year, my son would excitedly tell me about what drill they had that day - fire drills being the favorite, as they were during my school tenure, since he got to go outside during the drill. Fire and tornado drills I could relate to. I'd crouched in many a cinder block hallway with a my hands over my head myself and was pleased that his teacher was imparting these drills in a way that made them not scary, but still very important.

Then one day he told me about soft lockdown drill. After investigating, I realized my little guy practices  five drills multiple times each year: Fire, tornado, soft lockdown, hard lockdown and evacuation.

My heart broke.

Yes, I'm pleased that the school has a plan and that they are practicing it with my child. They would be negligent not to, in this day and age, and I want to know that my child will be safe when I send him into their care.

But so much of me is saddened to know he has to do this, that this nonchalant recognition of the different between a hard and soft lockdown will simply be a part of my child's school experience. That one day, he may be faced with having to speak up about something scary he sees in his school. That potentially he would huddle in the corner on the brightly colored mat by the bookcase with the lights off and the doors locked and the teacher whispering she loves him while pops explode in the hallway.

Right now, soft and hard lockdowns are just practice for him and understanding why they happen are outside his current reality. I hope they stay that way.

But someone else making their way into a school with a weapon of mass or self-destruction scares the shit out of me.

When did our schools become the battleground?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Flexing Frustrations

Most days, my flex schedule is great. I get a few mornings in an office setting with adult conversation, thought-provoking challenges and a kid-free zone to work. I am able to be home to play, meet the school bus and make a family dinner. Appointments for the kids can be made for times when I'm at home and meetings can, most often, be scheduled for times when I'm in the office.

But not every day/week/month lives up to the ideal it is on paper.

For instance, elementary school started last week and the now 7 year old is back to a full school schedule. The 3 year old, however, doesn't go back to preschool for two more weeks. The babysitter I had for the summer has gone back to school and I'm officially without dedicated child care for two weeks.

I have a very understanding husband who, even during the school year, will make it a point to handle preschool pick-ups during his lunch hour so I can manage an extra 45 minutes in the office. He has had a fantastic flex schedule of his own this summer that allows for some half-day Fridays. And overall, he's been very supportive of helping me get that coveted office time when he can.

But, it's weeks like these that bring the same old tired argument we always have about two work schedules back to the surface. The fact of the matter is, when he goes to work each morning, he doesn't have to worry about where the kids are. So when I'm stuck with no sitter, he doesn't have to think twice about where he will be from nine to six, five days a week, but I have to jump through hoops of fire to figure out how to manage eight to 12 hours a week in the office on top of the extra at home hours I already have to finagle.

The fact of the matter is that there are just not that many reliable, easy, part-time daycare options available. Daycare centers don't really offer part-time care, nannies most often want a full-time position and relying on babysitters means that you have to find the sweet spot in scheduling between their other commitments and yours. It can be a full-time job in itself to find this kind of part-time care. And who has time for that? Many part-timers and flex schedule folks I know tend to cobble together the same sort of piecemeal care that I do: shared pick-ups, strategic play dates, occasional sitters, preschool.

I spend a great deal of time being available via email and cell so that nothing falls through the cracks whether I'm at the office or the zoo with two stir-crazy kids. Sure, sometimes I have to be that mom who is talking to a reporter the day of a big company announcement from the parking lot of my kids' science camp watching him launch rockets. And sometimes I have to park the 3 year old in front of a movie to get work done when there isn't a babysitter and pitching a reporter after they go to bed is not an option. But it means that my colleagues don't doubt my work ethic and ensures that the work gets done, while at the same time, being there for my kids.

I don't know what the answer is, but until part time child care is a reliable and easy option for families, it will be harder and harder for families (and let's face it, mostly women) to create and fight for these flexible working situations. 

Even weeks like this when I struggle with the guilt of not being in the right place at the right time, I count myself lucky. I am lucky to have a situation that is truly flexible. I am lucky to have supportive family. I am lucky my kids are self-sufficient enough to build a race track through my living room as I push press releases to 13 different states. I am lucky that when the work is done, I can pack a picnic and play at the park with a very precocious little 3 year old. 

But it frustrates me that I have to count myself lucky. We need to look at how to make flexible work more widely available and accepted. We need companies to understand the mutual benefit of creating these types of arrangements to keep the right kind of people benefiting their bottom line. We need the child care industry to recognize there is a market for flexible care. We need to take advantage of the technology we have available to us to allow us to work whenever, wherever. 

Of course there are jobs that will never be flexible, but for those that can be, we need to start fighting for flexibility. 

The saying goes that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. It's time we start making our own luck in the workplace. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Son's Love

I think it's safe to say that if you've ever listened to NPR, you've sat in your driveway or in a parking lot listening to the soothing narration, the metered cadence of voice over, hanging on every turn of the story until you got to the satisfying end (I mean, they made a whole CD of them, so I can't be alone in this).

I did that today.

"All Things Considered" did a brief interview with their weekend host, Scott Simon, who has been tweeting the final days of his mother's life spent in the ICU. She passed last night. I've been following his twitter feed (@nprScottSimon) and had been truly touched by his words the last several days, many bringing me to tears.

"Mother cries Help Me at 2;30. Been holding her like a baby since. She's asleep now. All I can do is hold on to her."

"I love holding my mother's hand. Haven't held it like this since I was 9. Why did I stop? I thought it unmanly? What crap."

"I just realized: she once had to let me go into the big wide world. Now I have to let her go the same way."

"Mother asks, "Will this go on forever?" She means pain, dread. "No." She says, "But we'll go on forever. You & me." Yes."

As I listened to his voice break and why he shared these experiences with the world, all I could focus on were the words and a son's love for his mother held inside of them.

As a mother, all I want is for my children to be strong, capable, caring, graceful people. I want them to go forth in the world and conquer their little part of it. I want them to have loving relationships and generous spirits. In my heart of hearts, I don't truly want any credit for that. I simply want to revel in it. I want to be an old lady on a porch somewhere and watch my children teach their children those same lessons and know in that moment that whatever I did worked.

But to see this man's love for his mother spelled out in 140 characters of brutal honesty and sincerer sentiment than any Hallmark card could ever hope to possess, I admit I want to be loved like that.

So, Patricia Lyons Simon Newman, know this: you did an excellent job raising what appears to be a thoughtful and loving man. But you also inspired me again today to continue trying to be the best mother to my boys I know how so that one day, they too will hold me in their arms and realize the symmetry of our love.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Leaning is the First Step

I read Lean In awhile ago and promised I'd write up a review since it spoke to me, my situation and the struggles I, and most of the women I know (working moms, single moms, at home moms, women without children...), face on a daily basis. But, life gets in the way from such high-minded posts that warrant citations and research and balance. So, screw it. I let it go. And, frankly, plenty of folks have been writing about Sheryl Sandberg and her book and its merits and failings that you can certainly do the research on your own.

Here is what I will say: read it. Is it the feminist manifesto of our generation? Nope. Does it address every woman's situation and how to solve it? Not at all. Did it look at what number of women get frustrated with the corporate culture and seek flexibility in starting their own businesses, running for local offices, serving in influential volunteer positions? I wish it had. What it is, is a clear dissemination of personal experience backed by sociological research that addresses one woman's observations and experiences. I believe we can all learn from that experience. It doesn't mean that I think we all are going to go out and aim for the C-suite, nor do I think that was her point. What I do think it does, or at least it did for me, was point out areas that I related to and has influenced how I think about particular situations.

For instance, a recent announcement at work was approaching. The event was to take place in Denver. An agency had been hired to handle event details, our marketing team was on top of visual details, and I was to handle media relations. I really wanted to go, but was terrified. It was my first work trip in more than 7 years. I wasn't afraid of the travel or being away from the kids (a night in a hotel by myself? Hello?!), but I was afraid I'd somehow lost my work chops. I went back and forth in my head about whether I should go or could handle the work from Atlanta. I nearly talked myself out of going. Finally, I decided to face that fear and go. And it was a great event.

The fear I felt was silly in that I knew I'd have fun, I knew I could do the job and I knew I had the babysitter and hubby at home making sure the home fires were burning and the kids weren't the ones responsible for setting them. But feel it, I did, because I had a blank space on my resume taunting me, needling at me from the inside making me think that, indeed, I couldn't do it.

The concept of "leaning in," of focusing on what you want, standing up to obstacles (like fear) that stand in the way, speaking up, asking for help, realizing your self-worth, abolishing those demons that whisper in your ears nasty phrases like "maybe you can't," "maybe you shouldn't," "you aren't good enough," "someone will realize you aren't as good/smart/talented as you think you are," is something we should all be reminded of whether you are hoping to go back to work after an absence raising kids, demand a flexible situation with your boss, seeking a seat on a local volunteer organization, starting a small business, writing a novel after the kids go to bed, running for school board or aiming for the top job in a Fortune 500 company.  Leaning in can mean standing up for your marriage and family by creating better partnerships with your spouse or recognizing the importance of date night or suggesting tech-free time on weekends. Leaning in can mean letting go of your preconceived notions of what work/life balance is or should be. Leaning in can mean letting in help from family, friends, nannies, colleagues. Leaning in can mean leaning back and finding the right path for you.

And that's where I find myself now.

Growing up, I always answered "writer" to the what do you want to be when you grow up question. Yet, even as a child, I felt a nagging tug in my gut that it was as frivolous an answer as astronaut or president. Sure, some of the kids in your class might end up on such prestigious or adventurous paths, but the majority would surely be regular folks with respectable jobs and content families at suburban soccer fields on Saturday mornings. We want our kids to dream, however, and imagine a future filled with endless possibilities. My name on a book spine was mine.

And then I grew up.

I never took a creative writing class in college. Never even considered it. And looking back, I can't even tell you why. I don't think my parents ever pressured me or insinuated it was impractical. Somewhere along the way, however, I focused on the dependable, the certainty, the safe. Luckily, I found the journalism school - I could write with a paycheck. The public relations track was even better - I could foster that creative side with writing skills and perhaps be satisfied.

And I have been. I love PR. I enjoy solving problems, finding the right avenues to solve them, communicating with people, sharing stories, seeing our news in print. But it's not the writing I dreamed of. It's not the writing that inspired me as a second grader with her nose stuck in a Beverly Cleary book all afternoon. It's not the writing I still long to do.

But there's that little demon voice again. "You can't write a novel," it whispers. "You don't have time," it teases. "It's too much work," it whines.

The hubby and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary this past week. We tend to spend those dates looking back and assessing the last year, looking forward to the next, wanting to support each other to succeed as individuals while also bolstering our marriage as the backbone of our family. And, of course, my writing dreams came up again over dinner. We talked a lot about the fears I have, the mental blocks, the defenses the demons have built up to prevent me from taking action when I finally said, "I don't know why I don't just do it. I'm already not a published author, so why am I afraid to write a book that might not be published? At least then I can say I did it."

Since then, I've been thinking a lot about that statement. Writing may not bring me fame or fortune or movie deals or the New York Times best seller list, but it brings me joy. So why don't I just go for it? I'm no worse off. At the end of the day, I may never see my name on a book spine, but it's already not there and I'm pretty happy with life as it is.

So, I'm leaning in. Leaning in to the demons and telling them, "I can do it," "I'll make time," and "Of course it's work, that's why I'm doing it."

Strangely enough, on that flight out to Denver for the work trip, I banged out three pages of what I think is the start of something interesting. I like that saying yes to one part of my life didn't mean no to the rest.

The best part of leaning in is that it moves you forward.

Monday, July 1, 2013


We're well into our summer here in Atlanta and with that has been the challenge of keeping the kids stimulated, busy and happy. With two active boys, it can be quite difficult to walk the line between two kids playing peacefully together and all hell breaking lose when one oversteps the unclear boundaries, knocks over the Lego tower or picks the wrong car to play with.

I can't count the number of times I yell "Boys!" down the hallway or "Work it out!" or "Use your words!"Some days it seems like I'm more referee than mom and I'm exhausted from the cacophony of whining complaints about what the other is doing and the timeouts for grabbing/shoving/hitting.

Don't get me wrong. There are moments of pure brilliance. Of the older one teaching the younger how to do something better. Of one building off the game of another and creating a brand new adventure. Of giggling. Of love...

...because, I have discovered, apparently the older one sneaks out of the top bunk to tuck the 3 year old in after he falls asleep. Tuck him in. Seriously? How absolutely adorable is that?

So now, when they are at each other's throats about whose turn it is to pick the TV show tomorrow, I'll just remember, that behind closed doors, in the quiet of the night, they will still take care of each other.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


I have a confession to make.

Today, I am shopping for flats.


Actually, shopping for flats isn't itself an inherently shocking thing for me. After all, what do you think I wear to the playground, grocery store, play date, school function?

But today, I am shopping for flats to wear to work. Specifically, an out of town work event.

Don't get me wrong, I wear flats to work. But typically, work is when the heels come out. My selection of heels is quite small now, compared to my full-time, pre-kids days. But slapping on a pair to head to the office for a couple of hours with a cute skirt or nice pair of jeans makes me feel like I'm putting on the uniform. It mentally sets me up for "professional me" space and separates me from the play-doh playing, train track building and PB&J making of the rest of my day.

The fact of the matter is, wearing heels on flights, trudging through airports, plus all day at a press event just makes my achilles shudder at the thought. I want to look great, but be comfortably confident, not wishing for a chair to sit in. And the sad fact is that most of my heels are battle worn from the playground, grocery store, play date and school functions.

It's time for a new pair.

Add all this to the fact that this will be my first work trip in seven years and mama just needs to make sure she is arriving with not just her press releases, media lists and lap top, but with her mojo.

For me, looking the part helps drive the inner confidence. Maybe it's vanity, maybe it's a distraction tactic to get me through the weekend so I don't focus too much on the anxiety, maybe it's a little of both or neither. Whatever the subconscious reason, I know that if I can find just the right pair of sassy flats to pair with the black pencil skirt, I'll be comfortable inside...and out.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Second Guesses

Wednesday is the last day of school. The last few weeks have been filled with field days and muffins for moms and class picnics and in-class activities and after school activities and teacher appreciation and  theme days and just about more than I can handle on top of our regular life.

At the little guy's preschool muffins for moms a few weeks ago, a day in which I was having to sneak him out of school early to drop him home with a brand new babysitter (stressful enough) to rush back out to a working lunch meeting, his teacher's mentioned they would be moving his class end of year party to the Monday of the last week of school instead of the actual last day of school.

And then I never heard anything else about it.

So this weekend, as I prepped for the week of swim lessons and end of year teacher errands on top of planning for a week-long road trip we're leaving for Saturday, I thought about the class party. I realized I hadn't received an email about the date switch and I did not take steps to email the class moms or teachers and headed into the office today.

And of course that party was still today. And I missed it.

Now, I sort of knew that would probably happen. After all, they did make a semi-announcement. But without a reminder or a nudge or a time, well, I felt pulled enough this week and chose to ignore it.

Then proceeded to feel guilty about it when it was confirmed that I wasn't there.

I make it to 99% of all my kids' activities. Working part time has been a struggle to make that work when events inevitably fall during the same times I've allotted to be in the office and the last month has made it ridiculously stressful. I don't want to miss my children's field days and sing-alongs, but I also have a professional responsibility. It's a constant struggle to find time. With Kindergarten splash down (hello, fire trucks to spray water on my 6 year old - totally NOT missing that) coming up Wednesday and our summer babysitter not yet available for the rest of the week, I consciously chose to turn a blind eye to the three year old's end of year party so I didn't miss a complete week in the office.

Did it make me feel guilty? Yup. Will he remember? Probably not. Was his experience less because I wasn't there? Surely not. Did he mention I wasn't there? Yes. But, I do realize that sometimes I have to chose. And in the grand scheme of things, not watching my three year old eat a cupcake on his last Monday of school was the least impactful choice to make.

With all the talk of leaning in, sometimes I just need to stand up straight or I might fall over.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Working Mothers Rant

Currently reading "Lean In" and have lots to think about on the subject of the current status of women in the workplace, but came across this article and needed to share it. I actually started to simply post the article with a brief comment on the blog's Facebook page, but quickly saw the paragraphs adding up and moved over to this space. Forgive me in advance, I feel a rant coming on.

On the surface, I think this column is trying to point out some fantastic female CEOs and the successes they have achieved for their companies. Great concept, honestly, for a column. Recognizing the great work being done by women in all facets of industry can only help to provide positive role models for young women AND men, not to mention continue to make the female face in the corporate world a less unique one.

The problem with the column, in my opinion, is that it reinforces stereotypes of women in the workplace. First off, the headline "Working Mothers Can Be Great CEOs." Have you ever, EVER, read a headline or business article talking about working fathers and the need to defend their ability to be a great CEO? I mean, E-V-E-R? Second, "can be?" Speechless. Third, it proceeds to highlight stereotypical female characteristics and how these can be useful to companies.

For so long women were told to act like a man to get ahead. Now we are being told to maximize or play up our feminine wiles to succeed? Of course mentoring, collaborating, listening, offering flexible arrangements and other items the columnist points out are good for business. They would be good for a business run by a woman OR a man. They are good for male and female employees. They are good for single workers, gay workers, parent workers, older workers. They just make good business sense. And quite frankly, these attributes are probably found in the best male leaders as well as female. Because the CEOs this columnist features recognized and provided these types of solutions to their respective companies doesn't mean they are successful leaders ONLY because they are women, it means that they are intelligent, aware and solutions oriented people who have found the most effective ways to lead their companies and employees.

The hubby and I watched Tina Fey on Inside the Actor's Studio this week and she answered a question from the audience about how to navigate being a great female director in an industry dominated by men. Her answer - be a great director. Don't think about being a female director or needing to prove that you're good at it because of or in spite of being a woman. Just do your job and do it to the best of your ability.

If we could all just take a step back and stop qualifying leaders by their gender, because the only times we describe a leader by their gender is when they are female. Let's simply applaud our best leaders who create opportunities for all of our citizens, who make work accessible and who support our families by advocating flexible arrangements for all workers.

Yes, there is room to be made for more female leaders and yes, I'll have more to say about that once I finish "Lean In" and digest it for a bit. But "Working Mothers Can Be Great CEOs?" I think I need to launch a similar set of columns. How do these titles sound?

  • Working Fathers Make Great Dinners
  • Working Fathers Can Be Terrific Caregivers
  • Working Fathers Make Housework More Effective

Monday, March 11, 2013


When I started this part time working gig, a friend told me to be where my feet are. I love this. So true. So simple. And yet, I have a devil of a time living by it.

For some reason, when I'm at work, I always remember the camp forms I need to fill out or the class snacks I need to pack and when I'm at home I'm making mental lists of the tweets that need to be tweeted or the pitches that need to be pitched. Those days when I can't seem to keep my brain and my feet in the same space are exhausting. I feel overwhelmed and unproductive. I get short-tempered. Then I load even more guilt on myself for not handling the entire situation better so I don't get to that point.

Circular? Yes. Productive? No. Frustrating? You betcha.

I recently gave up the workout class I have been participating in since the six year old was a mere six weeks old. I loved every aspect of this class - the workout, the fact my kids could come along, the fresh air, the friends I made (seriously, moms, check them out. I have in no way been compensated to say this). It was hard to say goodbye, but my kids are older. The schedule is tougher with all the increased commitments of work and school volunteering. When I hadn't made it to a class in two months, I had to say goodbye.

Needing to fill the hole, I have started going to a yoga class at our local Y. I didn't know what to expect. I've never done yoga, but was intrigued and thought it would give me something fresh to jump start a new workout routine.

Yoga might be the best gift I have ever given myself. Not only do I feel my body responding in extremely positive ways, but my spirit is lifted every time I walk out of the studio. Taking an hour to do something for myself, by myself has been revolutionary. Being able to simply breathe and be without a litany of tasks clouding my brain has given me a fresh perspective to start over those afternoons. The soft voice of the instructor, the purposeful movement, the sense of peaceful community have all done wonders to my mental space.

I am ridiculously in tune with my body - my husband would say too much so. I think I knew I was pregnant with my second child within days of conception. I could just tell. My cardiologist has agreed when he has assured me some of the issues I've presented with are extremely common, most folks just don't ever feel them. I am very concerned when something seems off in my body, which can often lead to crazy assumptions that I must be coming down with something (this is the point at which the hubby thinks I need to be less in tune with my body since sometimes an eye twitch is just an eye twitch and an achy back is just an achy back).

But in yoga, it's all a positive. It's being in tune in the most fundamental way - listening to what needs stretching, filling and emptying. Letting go of concern and simply taking a mental inventory of the aches and the pains and the good and the satisfied. Being present, focused and healthy.

So to all of you mamas out there trying to find the elusive balance, remember, it's about presence. Find something that makes you feel present. It doesn't have to be yoga, it can be a walk, a run, a hot bath, meditation, whatever makes you grounded and keeps you from thinking of all the need tos and haven't dones.

Be present. Even if it's just an hour a week. And if you're still insisting on balance over presence, come join me in a nice chair pose.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Since last week, I've been mulling over what I want to say about the recent memo coming out of Yahoo! requiring all workers report to campus, eliminating their work from home stance.

I admittedly do not have an MBA nor do I particularly have a mind for "management." I am a communicator. I am an observer. I am a seeker. I am not a numbers person. I am not a manager, nor do I ever truly care to be one. I like working with others on a team and having a role to fulfill and a skill set to offer. I like putting my head down and working alone to put that skill set to work and create change. I like learning from others' strengths and allowing them to do what they do best.

I do not work at Yahoo! or a company like it. I do not claim to understand their culture, their specific needs for corporate change or how to fix their bottom line. I do not know if people are taking advantage, in the most negative sense of the term, of the telecommuting option or if this is simply a nice tactic to trim the personnel fat without having to make hard layoff decisions.

I do, however, work in a flexible environment.

As I've said before, I work part time and a lot at home. The company I work for is relatively small and a start-up. A lot of folks have young families. Travel and late nights and weekend events are par for the course for many and the mentality is very much see something that needs to be done? Do it.

When I started this gig, the understanding was that I would primarily work from home. It soon became apparent, as folks were getting used to who I was and what I could offer, that I show my face every so often in order to get to know everyone and experience how the business worked. I currently go to the office on days when both kids are in school - so three mornings a week. If I need to attend a meeting outside of those hours, I have often brought a little assistant with me to the office.

This face time allows me the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues, track down answers to unreturned emails and, often, have a quiet, kid-free zone to work. The ability to work from home, however, gives me the opportunity to spend time with my kids, be there when my six year old gets off the school bus and volunteer at my children's schools. Many of my tasks are writing or research related and can be completed outside normal business hours. My social media tasks have no business hours and I am able to check on them whenever and wherever.

Today's constant email, text and social contact are making the traditional 9 to 5 schedule a thing of the past. People have access to work wherever they are. I think it's unrealistic to not offer flexible work environments. I, for one, am able to participate in the economy, find fulfilling work and contribute to a company I believe in because of it. If the job required a 9 to 5 in the office schedule, frankly, I'm not sure I'd be doing it.

That being said, there must be parameters, boundaries, expectations. Flexible work environments are a lot like raising children. You want to give kids the freedom to explore, learn and take risks. At the same time, they need boundaries to still feel safe and confident. My kids always behave better when they know what is expected of them. Freedom breeds creativity and confidence in them, but inattention leads to acting out and, shall we say, mischief.

So provide freedom, but be attentive. Insist workers spend a certain number of hours a week in the office, require attendance at monthly staff/team meetings, offer events/seminars/learning opportunities that get people together. Sure, it might be harder work for management to enact boundaries and monitor the work-from-homers, but isn't that their job? To manage? Why risk alienating talented workers who may be more productive without the extra-long commute or the complicated child care arrangements or, frankly. without the distractions of a cubicle environment?

I certainly don't have all the answers, but I can say that truly flexible work environments are good for workers. They are good for families. They are good for employers. I hope that, at the very least, this move by Yahoo! will help keep the conversation about flex schedules going.

My fear, though, is that it will give employers the permission to remain inflexible.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

From the Outside In

I'm so used to living my life looking from the inside out. Wishing I had more time, more control, more space, more energy, more patience. Thinking I'm being judged for the whiny preschooler, ornery six year old, bad hair day, inability to remember simple tasks and deadlines. Motherhood and family life have many of us so wrapped up in what we should be doing, could be doing or would rather be doing that I, for one, often miss what's right in front of me.

I long ago gave up expecting or striving for perfect. I do, however, expect/want/wish/hope my kids will behave relatively well in situations where other mothers are present so as not to let anyone else know how badly I'm swinging by the seat of my pants at any given moment. I just want to look a little bit like I know what I'm doing, if even for a second. Although, when a fellow parent compliments me on having it all figured out (ha!), I dismiss those good vibes quickly thinking, "if they only knew." There is no winning with me, apparently.

So it is often in those moments when my kids are screeching through Target that they want a new toy and we're only there for toilet paper or when they are smacking each other in the head as I attempt to buy groceries or the three year old is running wild in the elder's school while I'm trying to scoop ice cream for the 100th day of school Kindergarten celebration that I hang my internal head, assume the jig is up and can't wait to get the hell outta there before I'm branded with the scarlet B of bad parenting.

Today, I was one of a two-parent volunteer team to lead an arts and crafts project at school. I convinced the hubby to take the three year old to lunch during that half-hour block so I could focus, for a change, on just my kindergartner and his peers. Especially since tape and glue were involved. My parent partner's two preschool boys were with her. As we walked into the school together, I recognized so much of myself. The strained smile in her voice as she cajoled her kids to stay put while we signed in. The pre-bad-behavior apologies. The split attention during the activity.

And really, they were fine. The youngest was a little wilder, excited to see his big sister, stimulated by all the activity and new toys and books. But overall, totally acceptable behavior. Until we were trying to exit the class and hug our big kids goodbye and that little guy tossed an entire crate of crayons all over circle time. And I laughed. Not because it was terribly funny, but because it was really no big deal. And yet, I could see to the mom, it was. And I knew how that felt. But in the grand scheme of things, it was crayons.

So I bent down to help pick them up and helped her push the stroller to the car.

Do I think seeing my usual stress on another mother's face is going to really help me be calmer the next time I'm in that situation? I hope so, but probably not. But it was nice to see myself from the outside for a change and realize that my mother was right all those year's ago: Ain't no body paying attention to me, they are all busy worrying about themselves.

So the next time you see me trying not to freak out with two crazed kids in tow, remind me of that. And maybe help me pick up the spilled crayons, if you don't mind.