Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Cycles of 7

The night before Jack turned 7, Trevor and I sat in a dimly lit living room, the remnants of Jack's birthday party strewn about the room- handmade cards from his friends, noisemakers, Lego boxes. The house was quiet and was very conducive to reflection.

"We have completed a cycle of 7 you know," I said to Trevor. "I'm a big believer in cycles and I have been feeling for awhile now that we're approaching an end to one."

We began to discuss the differences between the 1st cycle and the 2nd.

"I think that first cycle of 7 is physically exhausting. You're physically exhausted every day from the care and feeding of your children. I think the next cycle is going to be more mentally exhausting," said Trevor, pulling the Spider-man blanket up around his lap.

And it was through this discussion that a lot of things began to make sense and click for me. The 1st cycle of 7 is physically exhausting. It is the cycle in which you most likely have the most minuscule social life, your conversations are almost exclusively about your children, and as a million synapses snap into place as you learn the new motions and new steps of being a parent to newborns, babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, you barely have anything left over for your spouse, your friends, yes, sometimes your children, and most definitely yourself. So it stands to reason that you drop out of sight for a bit. You relish when plans get canceled, you reply "maybe" to every single event you're included in because your life is one big exhausting question mark. Retreating into your phone and seeing photos of your friends and feeling connected even when it's so hard to be connected was in many ways a life raft for me. I could have people see into my life and I could see into theirs and it was nice... was. nice.

Something clicks at 7. You realize you're getting better at this. Your kids are likely more self sufficient and even if you have young ones like we do, you aren't as stressed out over the little things anymore. Those million synapses have clicked in place and you deftly and coolly go through the motions with a muscle memory that is instinctual. Alas, it's not all smooth sailing though because now the mental exhaustion sets in. Having to now negotiate with your older children. Building in good habits for them, teaching them instead of doing for them. These are emotionally draining tasks. The heavy lifting is all being done internally and not externally and that is when you realize that your social circle, the one you couldn't nurture and grow in that 1st cycle of 7 is precisely what you need now.

And that, my friends, is the exact place I find myself on January 30, 2017. 23 days into my 2nd cycle of 7 and I'm realizing that it's time to reach out, which seems like a funny thing to have to do in an age of social media where the possibility of "connection" seems endless.

Keep reading...

But it doesn't. I have realized that it's an absolutely false sense of connection that has fueled more loneliness, more disconnection among us than ever before. I would dare say that you could be happier doing almost anything than scrolling through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Like, seriously, almost anything. So it's time for a break. I'll be honest, I'm not deleting Facebook. It is an incredible time capsule of my life for the past 10 years. It's a treasure trove of photos and messages that makes it hard to get rid of. But in order to limit the amount of time it consumes in my day and to limit the amount of time it robs from my children and husband it's time to reconfigure it.

My Facebook circle needs to be pared down, a ton. It's not because I don't like the people I've connected with here, it's not because I don't care about them, but it's because in this 2nd cycle of 7, real human connection is what's going to get me through, not pretending I'm connected because I "like" your meme. A friend recently commented that she misses me before adding that it's totally unnecessary since we live in the same town. That got me thinking.

So, this is kind of a Dear John letter to both Facebook and the 1st cycle of 7 where Facebook helped bolster me. It now feels like a weight, something to be managed or tended to, and as I've realized, the real things in my life I need to tend to are outside of the internet.

It's a first step toward being intentional about the 2nd cycle. It's time to re-organize my time.


Monday, January 8, 2018

On Janus

In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, gates, doors, doorways, endings, and time. He is usually a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past. The Romans dedicated the month of January to Janus and I dedicate this poem to my own January baby, Jack.

The god Janus sits in solitude.
One eye gazing forward
One eye fixed on the past.
I too stand in a doorway of the heart,
clinging to your childlike wonder
while marveling at the fact that we just spoke about dinosaurs
and you taught me something new.
I adore your sweetness and untarnished heart.
I delight in your maturity, curiosity...and dinosaur facts.
Like Janus, I mark this month with a reflection on duality.
My heart still sees your new baby skin and
still feels your fingers exploring my face.
My eyes see your confident stance and
the way you nimbly navigate this world.
My heart has kept you small.
My eyes have watched you grow.
And like your birthday god, I sit in wonder
at how everything we've been
has made everything we are.
One cycle of 7 complete.
You are my past
You are my present
You are my infinite future.

Happy birthday Jack xo

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Last First

For 9 months I carried you, with the knowledge that you were my my last.
A comforting thought during the hard times.
The end of morning sickness,
the end of labor,
the final contraction,
the final push.

Holding your warm, wriggling nakedness, my tears splashed your matted hair.
Hold him, yes, but hold this too, this moment, it's your last.
The last first meeting,
the last first embrace,
the last first kiss,
the last first cradle of your head as you nursed.

You shine with all the confidence I'd expect from a boy born into a 4-member fan club.
As we've journeyed 'round the sun together, you've given me
My last first smile,
My last first laugh,
My last first Christmas,
My last first steps.

I watched you gaze out the window with a sense of familiarity.
I've seen this day before, you thought.
My feet have been planted on 365 days of earth.
I've gone around the sun and came back to where I started.
In my cozy home with these wild brothers,
With this cuddly mommy, with this sturdy dad.

Later, when smoke circles billowed above that 1 candle,
the candle that burrowed into two other first cakes,
our wishes for you sailed up into the heavens,
disappearing almost imperceptibly
just like the baby I met one year ago.
And with one last first wish, we send you back around the sun again.

Happy birthday Teddy. We wish you 1,000 new firsts and breathless, joyful discoveries.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sweet Little Lies

Last year, my sister Mary, her fiance, and his mom were traveling through our town on their way back from vacation. Mary called me to make plans to stop by. Mary and Jack have always had a very special bond.  Knowing how excited he would be to see "Beamie", I asked Jack if he'd want to see her that night. He chirped "Yes!" and so I asked him to close his eyes and make a wish; to wish for Beamie to come that night. He did and then we all went outside to play in the yard. Within a half hour, we saw headlights coming into the cul-de-sac. It was Beamie. Jack's face lit up like a Christmas tree. "It came true! It came true!" he shouted all the way up the garden path as he ran to his beloved aunt. She scooped him up and they embraced like velco monkeys

Two things about this story-

1. It is absoutely true and endearing and heartwarming
2. I am a stone cold, bald faced LIAR. Pants on fire liar. I made my son believe that he could wish something into reality. All lies. 

Does #2 change the story for you?

Oh man, the lies we tell our children!  Santa, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, they're all part of the magical fabric of childhood, all massive lies, but magical nonetheless. Since I don't love considering myself an unabashed liar, I've had to come to terms with these sweet little lies and the reasons we tell them.

I should start by saying that in our house, we greatly downplay Santa and the Easter Bunny. We talk and act as if they're real, but on Christmas, there's not a single gift I give to the boys that's marked from Santa. To my boys, mom, dad, and Santa are all in cahoots and we make Christmas plans together, but my boys know that every single present under the tree is from mom and dad. I know that's a bit odd, but here's my rationale...

Parenting is a rough and thankless business, especially in these early years. Why in the world would we outsource one of the most thrilling moments our children experience to some mythical being? Like, let me get this straight for a second. 

Mom & Dad: chores, forced vegetable eating, homework, bedtimes, order, structure, routine
Santa: heaps and heaps of presents
Easter Bunny: heaps and heaps of candy
Tooth Fairy: cold, hard cash

Whaaaa???? That's crazy! Parents need those other things to balance out their list of demands! Why do we give made up people all of the glory? And yet, we play along, we dabble in magic and make believe in these fleeting years when magic and make believe are essential ingredients for a happy life. 

So if parents dance around the truth, we must forgive ourselves. At 38, it's much easier for me to see the bleakness of the world than it is for me to see the magic. My boys find magic in everything. When they hunker down behind our living room couch with their Justice League and Power Rangers playsets and immerse themselves in a world of their own creation, they're dabbling with magic. I see tiny action figures strewn across the floor. I see the mess. They see heroes, lying in wait for the next great adventure. They see possibility. 

I think we can all take a page from their book. So we are complicit in the lies. We do our best to preserve the years when the world is nothing but possibility and potential. Maybe, just maybe if we try hard enough, we can look out at the landscape that is the world in the year 2017 and see some possibility and potential ourselves. Please remind me of this the next time I step on one of those small action figures so instead of yelling out DAMMIT, I proclaim THIS IS SO MAGICAL instead.

But do try to take some credit for the magic. Don't outsource all of it. You deserve some credit for the joy. You deserve some credit for allowing childhood to be a highly filtered, special and wonderful time.

"It came true!" Jack exclaimed, in awe of how inexplicably wonderful life is. 

His wish came true. Magic.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

But Not You

Some kids creep into their parents room in the dead of night tip-toeing softly so as not to be heard.
They sneak quietly into their parents' bed to hide from their dream zombies and monsters.
But not you.
You race down the hall like a fully grown elephant.
You throw open the door like 100 Kramers, unabashedly making your presence known.
You climb up into our bed and in full voice say "Snuggle me, mama."

Some kids act out at their new baby brothers, immensely irritated by their cute little faces and attention seeking doe eyes.
They sneak in a good pinch or shove when their parents aren't looking.
But not you.
You mesmerize him like a street corner magician.
You tickle his every funny bone like a carnival side show clown, delighting in making him smile.
You get right in his face so he's positively sure of you and say "HI SWEET BABY TED!"

Some kids are blissfully unaware of the sadness of others, too immersed in their own world to care.
They keep all the best toys to themselves and stare blankly at the tears of a friend.
But not you.
You reach out like a beam of light into dark places.
Your kind spirit lifts up an entire room like a shiny elevator we all want to ride, you carry us.
You lean into other people's struggles, giving them the best of you, then asking "Are you happy now?"

Some kids run onto a field to kick a ball, throw a pitch, or run the bases.
They keep their head in the game, they focus and they listen intently.
But not you.
You run out onto the field like a jubilant mascot.
You keep us going and when we want to quit, you rush the field in a ridiculous dance.
You remind us that our family is the greatest in the league when you smile and sigh at the end of a long day and say "We're all together."

Some kids have great lives.
But not you.
You make lives great.

Friday, February 24, 2017

In Defense of the Butter Pants

I've recently read a lot of criticism online about LuLaRoe clothing, and fairly recently a pretty scathing review of direct marketing companies by John Oliver. This is a blog post to provide a counterpoint about my experience as a customer of LuLaRoe, via their network of consultants around the country. A few disclaimers before I begin:

- I am not a consultant, although I have a few friends who are.
- If you believe that LLR and companies of this nature are all nothing more than pyramid schemes, I will most likely not change your mind with this post. I'm not sure what to tell you other than that I believe some direct marketing companies are shady, their practices questionable, and their recruiting strategies, predatory in nature. I also believe others offer a fully transparent and fun way for their consultants to make some money selling a product they love. I can't speak for LLR's business practices as I'm not a consultant. My friends who are consultants in DMs, including LLR, don't at all strike me as victims, and, in fact, are having the time of their lives. 
- I'm sure there are many great men selling products as part of DMs, but I'm focusing in on the women who are, who I believe make up the majority of consultants.
- If you've tried the product and didn't enjoy it or didn't find it worth the money, I will probably not change your mind, but I applaud you for trying something before judging it.
-This is my experience and my experience alone, about everything from the postpartum days, to my thoughts on LLR. Your experience, undoubtedly was different, or maybe contains shades of similarity, but nevertheless, I can only speak for myself.
- I am not a paid spokesperson for LLR but one time, I did win some free clothes by posting a funny Morgan Freeman meme on a consultant's Facebook page...

Ok, now that we got that out of the way...

I was pregnant for most of 2016 at a time when my friends had caught the LLR fever big time. I was invited to several Facebook and in-home parties, but declined. Buying clothes while pregnant didn't sound like the most fun thing ever. I promised my friends that I'd look into it once baby arrived, and true to my word, in my first month post-partum, I accepted an invitation to shop an online boutique. I bought 1 pair of leggings to see what the insanity was all about. They were comfy, colorful and fun to wear (they are often compared to "butter" for how soft they are, hence the title of this blog). I wore them at Thanksgiving and was glad that I had found something besides maternity pants to wear that fit nicely and didn't make me obsess over my post-partum belly- a belly had that grown and delivered three beautiful boys but was certainly worse for the wear. At 37, things don't always bounce back and no matter what, your body is forever changed by this miraculous and beautiful thing that's just happened to it. But the miracle and the beauty of it all is quickly lost when you feel flabby and out of shape and when the weight just isn't coming off in spite of your best efforts. And let's be honest, sometimes in spite of your most mediocre efforts because when you're exhausted, hormonal, and navigating postpartum bouts of baby blues or depression, sometimes your weight is the last thing you should be thinking about and questions about your overall wellbeing should revolve around more than just what a scale says.  

Many of my friends and myself included, wore maternity clothing long after the maternity leave was over, not because we wanted to, but because so many of us didn't see many viable options for those transition months. And as a postpartum mom who is already genetically predisposed to a pear shape, I can tell you, unequivocally, that clothing designers have not only let me down, they have forgotten all about me. I should mention here that LLR offers sizes from XXS to 3xl so a wide variety of women can and do wear the clothing, not just my pear sisters. Where you at, pear sisters? I like you and I cannot lie.


Shortly after that first purchase of leggings, I stumbled upon a consultant on Facebook who was going out of business and liquidating her inventory at a pretty great % off. I saw this as a good opportunity to try a variety of styles to see what I liked at a pretty low cost. When those colorful packages arrived it was fun!  I'm sure my husband and mail lady just had to laugh and shake their heads at the array of bright mailers stuffed with shirts, skirts and dresses that kept making their way to our doorstep, but it was like Christmas! Ok, it actually was Christmas at the time, but the gifts were from me and for me, my favorite kind of gift ;) 

Each mailer contained a business card and sometimes something extra- hair ties, candy, thank you notes, and jewelry were all little extras I'd find in my packages. The consultants with whom I had discussed going back to work, sent me messages of encouragement, assuring me that I'd be amazing and look amazing. The nice college-aged kid who rings me up at Target has never offered such affirmations. 

I decided that since it had been years since I really bought new clothes for myself, I would purchase a brand new wardrobe, almost exclusively from LLR consultants. I wanted my working mom clothing to be a show of support to the women working hard, selling these clothes from their homes, hoping to gain some financial independence and do something that is just for themselves. It also helped that I really loved the clothes.

My motivation for doing this was a personal one. I was raised by a young stay at home mom who was brilliant, creative, and charming. It's hard enough being a stay at home mom today, but imagine doing it in the 80s with no social media, no texts from friends and a lot of isolation from people your own age. My dad worked out of town so my mom was with her gaggle of young kids solo for most of the day, into the evenings.  When I was in elementary school she started selling Princess House crystal, doing in-home parties to the absolute delight of her customers. She was successful and had so much fun with it and if the demands of home weren't too great she'd probably have been their top saleswoman. I know those parties were a way for her to be independent, be social, and be herself, not her "mom" self, her own self. When I wear my "Nicoles", "Carlys", or "Irmas" to work and people tell me that I look great, I send a tip of my hat to the woman who bought, displayed, packaged, and mailed me that particular item of clothing. I think of my mom and it always makes me smile.

Fancy Princess House crystal mugs; an absolute staple of my childhood
I get excited to open up my closet every day and see the array of brightly colored clothing hanging there. I don't have anxiety about what to wear to work or about what will flatter me. The clothing I bought will work even as my baby weight comes off, it's designed to fit a variety of shapes and sizes and what is more form fitting today will be nice and loose over time.  It's comfortable, it's colorful, and it represents women like my mom. I imagine some lady in the mid-80s somewhere in metro Detroit being proud to host a dinner party because of the dishes my mom sold her. How excited she must have been to set out the fancy swizzle sticks that she got as a hostess incentive and serve dessert with coffee in real crystal mugs, not just the regular old Sunday morning mugs. To the many women I've purchased clothing from, thanks for being the reason I was excited the night before I went back to work after maternity leave. I stood in my closet staring at the options before me and eventually picked out a fancy "Sarah" cardigan, a "Perfect T" to wear underneath and some jeans. I got compliments all day, the clothing was bright and fun but the woman underneath them felt confident and that was the key.

If butter pants ain't your thing, I get it, (more for the rest of us... but I get it). I do hope if you're reading this, that you find some way to support women-owned or operated businesses, whether they're DMsor LLCs, franchises or small start-ups. Women, statistically still get paid less than men and only 5% of the S&P 500 companies have women as their CEOs, so we're not only underpaid, we're underrepresented in business. Women are still fighting to be heard, to be seen, and to be taken seriously. So here is my simple request, and it's not to beg you to try LuLaRoe. It's to pause the next time you're blasted on Facebook with party invites for makeup, clothing, books, nail stickers, lip gloss, or bags. Just pause and consider the woman behind the invite. She could be a single and savvy hobbyist who's hustling to make some extra cash, but in my circle, more often than not, she's a mom who is involved in a business that speaks to the interests and passions she has outside of motherhood. She's probably tweaking her Facebook page after the kids go to bed. She's selecting her favorite font for her business cards, and the clip art that totally speaks to the brand she's creating for herself. She's responding to emails and writing thank you notes while her kids watch Daniel Tiger and she's probably wondering if she's struck the right balance. I hope she's having fun with it and flexing talents that she might not be flexing in other aspects of her life. She's a lot like me, even though she works in her home and I work outside of mine. She's hardworking, talented and probably really tired of having to defend her business to people who are concerned she's entrenched in a scheme. So feel free to turn off the notifications for that party or group, but I'd encourage you to send her a quick note and just say "Hey, I don't know how you do it all, but I love that you're having fun with this and I support you 100%". Because regardless of whether her business is a wild success or not, she needs your support. 

Thanks to the ladies around the country who have given me a pep in my step and some cool new clothes. 

I support you 100%.

I have a list of consultants who I love to work with, who are responsive, hardworking, and absolutely incredible women, let me know if you need a recommendation :)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Friendship Day

You won't remember the day
when you gave me that card.
Thick and colorful marker lines
surrounding a round bellied stick figure.
Happy Friendship Day! you said.
written in the unmistakable handwriting
of my firstborn son, 
I warned you I would cry happy tears,
as I tucked the card into the side pocket
of the cooler where I stored
the empty bottles that I'd pump in that day.
You won't remember the day
when you reminded me that I'm not
screwing this all up;
that day in January,
my second day back to work
after my 3rd and final maternity leave.
With twisty, mixed up emotions,
I looked at that card all day,
willing myself to believe that despite
my early separation from my babies,
they were fine, more than fine,
surrounded by a network of people
who love them like their own.
You won't remember the day,
that you, newly 6,
gave me the confidence to go back to work,
to take on the day and its challenges,
to come home to you, your brothers and your dad,
knowing that beyond simply not screwing it up,
I was actually, amazingly, doing it right.
I will always remember the day,
you told me I was your friend.