Thursday, June 30, 2011

to be a writer

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Blogher asking if they could please syndicate a post that I had written on my blog, earlier in the month. They told me (in actual words) that they loved the post and they thought it was very empowering for working mothers to realize they had the option to say "No" to work activities that clashed with important family activities.

Considering that post generated a lot of ... not exactly favorable feedback on my own blog ... I was very surprised and flattered that they would reach out to me and offer me real money for my writing. So I notified them that yes, of course, I'd be honored if they syndicated my rambling thoughts on the front page of their website that is connected to 26,000,000 women bloggers.

Make it 26,000,001.

Give or take.

I'll admit, it's really quite a rush for someone to read your thoughts and respond favorably and then, want to share and circulate those thoughts far and wide. So you can imagine the rush that I'm feeling ... on behalf of my dear friend, Debbie ... who is already a published author but is now also the author of the newest book in the "For Dummies" collection.


Approximately six and a half years ago, Charlie and I were coming home from a doctor's visit with our three-month-old triplet babies. As we carried them in to the house, one carseat at a time, of our neighbors [whom at that point we didn't know very well] came running over to see what she thought was just one baby. She quickly noticed that we had THREE babies and she almost hyperventilated as she told us that her best friend is the mother-in-law of a woman who also lives in the neighborhood and just delivered triplet boys.


Debbie and her family, it would turn out, lived less than a mile down the street from us. And although our paths had never crossed before that exact moment in time, the friendship between our families took root over the next few years. Our friendship positively blossomed when Debbie, despite recoiling at the thought of raising almost $3K, agreed to not only complete the necessary fundraising, but then walk sixty miles over the span of three days with me, in 2009.

It takes a special kind of friend to make such a huge commitment.

And Debbie is very special indeed.


If you are an aspiring young adult writer ... or know someone who is ... this book (or perhaps several copies of this book) is a must-have for their library. You can also check out Debbie's blogsite where she will be hosting several giveaways over the next few days, including a full manuscript edit to celebrate her book launch.

Debbie: You are an inspiration. I am so proud of you and wish you the most incredible kind of success!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

stream of ... unorganized thought

I've been out of work for almost three weeks.


I've slept for nearly two and a half of them.


After taking things very easy last week, I had every intention of returning this past Thursday, but when I woke up that morning with a temperature, I returned to the doctor where I was warned of a possible relapse.


Then I came home and slept.

I'm getting very good at it, these days.


When the doctor told me a full recovery could take several weeks, I thought for sure I'd do it in half the time because I'm nothing if not ambitious. Although previously suspected, it's now been confirmed by a medical professional, I'm also delusional.

I'm still on medication and will be for quite some time. For example, to combat my low cortisol levels, I'm on Prednisone. Actually, I'm thankful to still be on Prednisone because if I've been this fatigued while on a steroid, I have no doubt I'd be unconscious without that daily supplement. I'll be following up with a specialist next week and I'm optimistic they'll assure me that everything I've been experiencing is par for the course and I'll be JUST FINE.


Okay, so while I'm a delusional optimist, I'm also a realist and I understand that there could be some underlying issues that might not so quickly resolve. So during these past few weeks of recuperation, there has been a lot of introspection about what I need to do, going forward to ensure I stay healthy. Then, yesterday I read this blog post and it really struck me...

88% of working parents suffer stress-related health problems.

I've always suspected the number was high, but not quite that high. As I was reading this post, I was thinking, "Gosh, it's no wonder almost all the working parents (especially working mothers) I know feel like they've got the weight of the world on their shoulders!" After reading all the various statistics, one sentence jumped off my computer screen and made me stop, think, read it again and then nod in agreement.

Most jobs are made for people who have no caregiving responsibilities.


Even though Charlie is currently serving in the role as primary caregiver in our family ... I have caregiving responsibilities, too. And here's the kicker: I want those caregiving responsibilities. I don't want to completely outsource them. I want to get children off to school during the day and help them with their homework and talk to them about social challenges they're facing at school. Because, hello, even in kindergarten - THERE ARE SOCIAL CHALLENGES.

Gosh, it starts early.

As I often tell my husband, recall it was me .... ME!!! ... who prayed and begged for a baby every single day for more than a decade. And then boom, boom, boom ... BOOM! ... they were here. Within a span of less than three years, all my prayers were answered. And almost immediately, a whole new set of prayers began.


Um, Universe?

How are we supposed to manage this?

What do you mean, WE have to figure it out?!


I often ask myself, how is it possible that a person is supposed to work out of the home for 40+ hours a week, while also doing a good job raising a family and also taking care of domestic responsibilities? And then ... of course ... how do they also take care of themselves?


After living this high-caliber busy work life for the past year and looking at it from every possible angle, the answer is: They Don't Because Something Has To Give.

I know that Charlie and I are lucky in the sense that one of us is home with the children. Even though he does work a lot at night, once the children are in bed, I know it would be so much more challenging if he was in an office all day, too.

Or, if ... God Forbid ... one of us was ever raising the family on our own.


I really loved one of the comments to the post, above:
Today's work doesn't have a quitting time - it's just there, and you know what you need to get done that day, and you find a way to do it, but when dinner is burning and work is on fire and my daughter is asking if the computer is more important than her, I can literally feel the heart attack coming on.
Most days, I'm not working at home, but I'll be working in the office and I can feel the heart attack coming on when I look at the clock and it's 6:30 and I'm still not finished with a project. Before me there is a 45-minute drive home and I'll see the kids for 10 minutes before they need to go to bed. And once they're in bed, I'll open up my computer to finish what I didn't complete before I had to leave for the day. Alternatively, I don't work at night, and I can feel the heart attack coming on for what waits for me in the morning.


My dilemma: when I'm working, I think about the family. When I'm with the family, I think about work and the house and all the stuff in it and the green shaggy stuff that grows around it that I'd love to cut, if only once, using my new birthday present.

Wrapped around all these "thoughts" is a nice colorful bow of guilt that I'm not managing everything better and I wonder why I can't turn OFF the "work" switch and ON the "family" switch and is it possible I've got some faulty wiring in my brain?


There is a program offered through the Human Performance Institute called, "Corporate Athlete." Although many of my co-workers have participated, I haven't yet had the opportunity to attend. From what I understand, this program is designed to help humans become more productive by managing their energy more effectively.

The concept is quite simple: Determine your goals. Work hard towards those goals. Stop and take energizing breaks. Eat small well balanced and nutritious meals. Exercise. Rest. Play Hard.
It's all very black and white assuming that you have clearly labeled "ON" and "OFF" switches in your brain which I do not.


Still, even without taking the course, I know the principles, I apply the principles, or at least, I try my best every day to acknowledge the principles. But what's always been a chafe for me is that when "something" has got to give, that "something" has always been me.

Eh, who needs eight seven .... six hours of sleep?!

I can funkshun on five!


I know that there's only so much of me to go around and darn it all to hot fudge Sundae if I don't have an addiction to taking on more. Considering just last week I volunteered for the PTA next year, I do believe that an intervention and 12-step program is in order.

But. But ... I want to help our children's school. Because I LOVE them. And isn't that what a mother who is interested in her child's education is supposed to do?


One of our wonderful neighbors dropped by last night to check up on us.

She stayed for dinner and as I was telling her about how fortunate I am to have such wonderful medical benefits that would cover the cost of an ambulance and four days in the hospital with specialist follow-ups and excellent coverage on some very expensive medications, she smiled and said, "That does sound nice. But imagine for a moment that the reason you ran yourself in to the ground and required significant medical attention in the first place is because you were working so hard. Maybe big companies offer such outstanding medical benefits for a REASON...?"

Huh. I never thought of it like that, before.

Maybe she's right.


I know for a fact that there's a solution in here, somewhere. I just haven't found it yet. Or, maybe I have and I'm seriously afraid of what that solution entails.

Moving Sale! Everything (EXCEPT THE LAWNMOWER) has got to GO!


Alright, that's definitely enough thinking for one day.

Time for a nap!


(PS: In case anyone is wondering: Yes, Henry is wearing his sister's bathing suit. It's part of his summer collection. Completing the wardrobe is his super hero cape and fireman boots. My theory is that it takes a strong male very comfortable with his inner-female to pull that look off. It also helps to have a mother who knows which battles to fight. Or maybe she's just too tired to suggest he wear his adorable surf shorts.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

the pressure on people these days

Earlier this week, I was talking with one of my friends who is contemplating whether to send her kindergartner to private or public school next year.


She told me that for the past two years, her daughter has been attending an upscale private preschool and her preschool curriculum easily surpasses the public school's kindergarten curriculum. Her philosophy is that if she wants to continue giving her daughter the best possible education, she'll keep her in private school. Because otherwise, sending her to public school will be a huge academic step backwards that will, in turn, impact the college that she attends, the job that she lands ... her entire life.

Believe me when I say that my friend is under a huge amount of stress as she considers the next "right" step for her child.


It was no accident that we moved in to an area with some of the best ranked public schools in the country, the weekend before our children started kindergarten. Now maybe if we lived somewhere where the public schools were dismally ranked, I'd more seriously consider private school. But because we live in an excellent school district, for the preservation of my sanity, I won't allow myself to buy in to the philosophy that our decision to send them to public school is any way handicapping them for life.

If I genuinely believed that I was robbing our children of an opportunity if we don't cough up the $60,000 per year tuition to send all four to private elementary school, my current "moderately-high" stress level would be totally off the charts as I eclipsed in to the "uber parent" realm and toppled in to a stress coma.


See, I believe that just about every parent out there, tries to do the best that they can for their children. But even if money was no object, I'm really hard pressed to believe that Charlie and I would send our children to a school that is so accelerated, they'd be working on multiplication tables and chapter books over the summer.

Is it really necessary for them to tap the upper limits of their brains at this age?


I'm a firm believer that children learn at their own pace. With that in mind, in a few years, will it really matter if they learned to read when they were four as opposed to six? Will there ever be a point at which the achievement gap closes? A plateau where our children will catch up with those who are in "accelerated" programs?

Or will the rate of learning continue on some exponential curve?


Maybe we're trying to maximize our children's learning capacity in an effort to beat China, Finland and South Korea,
but from my humble perspective, it seems that we, as a society, are expecting children younger and younger to do more and more.

Not only in school, but outside of school.

And what I see is that pressure on the children = pressure on the parents.

For example, now that summer is here, I'm amazed at the hype to get our children involved in activities that will keep them busy every waking hour from before sun up until after sun down. While I certainly believe that soccer, gymnastics, dance, baseball, basketball, art camp, swim team, dive team and lacrosse are all fun ... I don't believe that our children need to participate in all of those events over the span of one summer. Nor do I believe that by not signing our children up for those events, I am depriving them of fun.


I'll admit that I've felt a tad bit self-conscious whenever I get the "UR cRAzY" look from people whenever they tell me all the things that they have planned for their children over the summer and I respond that we've got nothing in store for our brood.

And yes ... that was intentional.


Once again, I believe our decision to keep our children out of the "fast lane" is all about self preservation (for them and us). So this summer, our kiddos will be playing outside a lot.


They'll do a lot of birdwatching ...


... and exploring of nature.


They'll be taking train rides in to Washington, D.C. with their parents and touring some of the best museums in the world. They'll be visiting the zoo and historic landmarks, libraries, parks and attending a plethora of free concerts.


And they'll be doing those types of things not just because it costs a small fortune to sign them up for activities, but because I suspect our children (and their parents) will enjoy our low-key activities a lot more than running around from one sporting event to the next.

And the next and the next and the next.


(Was it this high-strung in California??)

(I'm having a difficult time remembering...)

Maybe we'll get on each other's nerves by next week and I'll be ready to pack them all off for camp. But at this moment, I do not want an over-scheduled summer. I want for us to have lazy days of basking in the sun and taking various trips as the spirit moves us. As they grow older, I know that they will want to be involved in everything that their friends are doing.

But right now, they're perfectly content being with us...


And I'm more than perfectly content with that.

Friday, June 24, 2011

favorite thing friday: Miss Rumphius

While I've been home convalescing this week, I've had a lot of time to think.


I've had a lot of time to ponder what it is that I am doing versus what it is that I'm supposed to be doing. And I've had a lot of time to contemplate that although I do feel strong in spirit, my body has suffered a few system failures, undoubtedly due to the stress that I've put upon it.

That thought, inevitably, led me to think about my husband and our children and what kind of impact I'd like to leave on this world before I gently float away. Because even though I've been told I have a tiny flair for the dramatic, the fact is: life is fragile, none of us are going to be here forever, and jeepers, I came a lot closer than I'd like to checking out ... just last week.

All of these thinking thinking thoughts culminated in me re-reading one of our all time favorite books, Miss Rumphius.


The story is about a young girl named Alice. When she was a little girl, Alice's grandfather told her that there are three important things that she must do in her life.


As she grows up, she must travel to faraway places. Like her grandfather, she must live in a house by the sea. But the third and most important thing that she must do, is something that will make the world more beautiful.


Alice grew older.


She traveled around the world.


Eventually, when she was an older woman, she bought a home by the sea.


Years went past and Alice grew older and sick. And as she lay in bed contemplating her life (much like I've been laying in bed contemplating my life), Alice pondered the most difficult question of all...

What could she do to make the world more beautiful?


During a walk, she noticed that seeds from lupines she had planted the previous spring, had been carried from her yard, to nearby ravines.

Suddenly, Alice was struck with an idea.


People called her, "That Crazy Old Lady" as she walked around town, scattering handfuls of seeds.


But the following Spring ... and for many years and years to come ... Alice accomplished the third and most difficult thing of all.


Now, Alice shares her story with others.


And when they tell her all the wonderful things that they plan to do with their lives, she will always tell them, "That is all very well. But there is something else you must do. You must do something to make the world more beautiful."

I've read this story to our children so many times we all know it by heart. And yet, it brings a tear to my eye, every time. I suppose it's because the truth is so breathtakingly simple.

We all have a purpose and every single person has it within us to make this world more beautiful.

So in your lifetime, what are you going to do to make the world more beautiful?


I'd like to say that I'm going to make this world more beautiful by inspiring our children to venture to all four corners of the earth and provide positive contributions to society. But considering they just had a contest to see who could spit in each other's eye first, my lofty goals have been downgraded to planting a tree.

Perhaps a cherry?


They're really quite lovely.