I was very sheltered growing up. That’s a fact, not at all a complaint. I’m very grateful for my childhood bubble. I attribute much of my outward success and inward health to my upbringing in a safe, beautiful, bountiful, and harmonious community (not to mention the compounding effect of being born to white, middle class, educated, and loving parents). Of course, I was aware of suffering in the world. I read The Economist and was troubled by human rights abuses, oppression, environmental degradation, and other ills. But I believed that if I studied hard, I could be someone and do something about these things to make them better. That sense of agency made me optimistic instead of distressed by world events.
So I studied hard. When I showed up in Washington, D.C. to be a congressional staffer, I believed I was finally going to use my international relations degrees to do some good in the world. I worked hard. I slept next to my Blackberry, took very few days off, and did believe I was making a small, but meaningful, difference. Read more…
I started this blog as a new mom, in a new job that suited my desire for flexibility and family time, but that I did not find meaningful or fulfilling. This tension between my professional aspirations and my new family priorities was a major impetus for this blog. If I was no longer defined by what I do, what determines my identity? The obvious answer was my family, but that identity did not include much of the person I was before having a child. In the years since, I have concluded that I am both “mom” and “me,” even as it is becoming ever more difficult to distinguish between the two.
For the past six+ years, I have told myself (and many others have told me) that the ability to regularly work from home, take long vacations, and adjust my work hours to meet my family’s needs was worth compromising my professional ambition. I reminded myself how lucky I was to have colleagues I liked, tasks I was good at, an easy commute, and great work/life balance. At the same time, I placated my nascent ambition by taking advantage of every opportunity for growth available at my agency. During my time there, I was promoted to the highest level, offered the top position in my legal speciality, and completed an intensive leadership development program. The more I accomplished, however, the more clear it became that my work did not contribute to my personal identity. It was a good job, but not a career that I could see myself in for the long term. Thus, it became increasingly clear to me that at some point, I would leave behind my mom-friendly job for something better suited to me. Read more…
My nickname in high school was not flattering, but it was undeniably accurate and has contributed to my self-image ever since. My classmates called me “The Precrastinator” because I was always trying to be ahead of the ball (it wasn’t enough just to be on it). For example, if, on the first day of school, a teacher mentioned that we’d present a final project at the end of the semester, I would stay after class to find out the parameters of the assignment and follow up a few days later to run some topic ideas by the teacher. Others saw this as being a kiss-up or teacher’s pet, but that wasn’t it at all. I did not want to be caught unprepared.
Some work well under pressure; I have colleagues who need a looming deadline in order to focus. I am the exact opposite. I like to have a detailed plan so that I can calmly approach and complete each step in the process. If I suddenly find myself with an imminent deadline (which unfortunately happens as an attorney), I am paralyzed by the pressure of getting it right the first time, without the chance to do all the research or revision I normally would.
My dislike of the unknown goes beyond academic and professional settings. I will drive twenty minutes out of my way to shop at a grocery store where I am familiar with the products and layout, rather than pop into a similar shop that’s on my route. Giving gifts causes me anxiety because unless the receiver put in a specific request, I cannot predict whether s/he will like what I got. I plan my family’s meals at least a week in advance, partly to help with shopping but also because I like to know what my next meal will be. I over-pack for vacations because I try to anticipate every contingency and bring what we might need.
I am well aware of my resistance to being vulnerable to forces I cannot control. Moreover, I know this is not healthy as the only constant is change so my efforts to maintain constant control will inevitably fail or backfire at times. That is why my 2019 New Year’s Resolution is to make peace with uncertainty. Not to embrace it, mind you, but to accept it as a natural part of life and to find strength in my faith, my family, and myself to face it without fear. Plus, it sounded good when friends asked if I had any resolutions. But I had no idea what “peace with uncertainty” would look like, or how I would pursue it.
I need not have worried. Just two weeks into the New Year, and my “normal” life has been doused with uncertainty. The partial government shutdown has left me in semi-vacation mode as a furloughed fed. While I have been enjoying the unexpected time with my family, the fact that I cannot plan play dates, meals, and other commitments more than a day or two out is physically painful. Knowing I could be called back to work at any time, or not, means constantly weighing the opportunity costs of different resource expeditures. It does not help that I will be starting a completely new job, more on that in my next post, with others who are also trying to navigate an unprecedented situation.
In the recent past, my daily life was so predictable that it would have bored most people. Having three small kids was enough to keep me on my toes, however, so I actively avoided as much uncertainty as possible. Now, I find myself in circumstances where there are more unknowns than knowns. I cannot claim to have made peace with it, but I’m getting lots of practice in trying!
It’s that time of year when employees everywhere are getting feedback on how well they are performing in their jobs. Although pretty much everyone hates them, and there have been many calls for their elimination, these annual / biannual / quarterly sit-downs persist in most organizations because they are a useful way to provide formal feedback. These painful meetings force managers and staff to take a hard look at what they do all day and consider how they could be doing it better. An effective manager will cite specific areas for improvement and ask for bottom-up critique as well. In theory, these appraisals offer an opportunity to recognize outstanding work and to correct missteps.
But what if what you do all day (or even part of the day) is raise children? Although more important than pretty much any other way we spend our time, child rearing is frustratingly un-measurable. There is no bottom line to track or lawsuits to win or clients to attract. There are no pounds to lose or awards to win or records to break. Our goal is to keep our children safe, healthy, and (generally) happy and help them develop into good people (however you define that). So how do we know if we are doing a good job? If our toddler bites a playmate, is that evidence we are slacking in our responsibilities? If our child screams that he hates us, does that mean we have failed to get through to him, or that we are doing well at standing firm?
Some say we can only know if our parenting was “successful” in retrospect, by looking at our children once they are grown. There may be an element of “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” but I cannot accept that there is no way to know in which areas of parenting you are doing well, and where you could do better. Read more…
To My Dear First Born,
It sounds cliché to say it seems like just yesterday that you slept in my arms, but it really is incredible how quickly you have turned into a young man. I know you are nervous about starting kindergarten today, even though you put on a brave face most of the time. To tell you the truth, I am pretty nervous about you starting kindergarten, too. Your sensitivity is one of the traits I most treasure in you, but I know your feelings will be hurt – if not this first day, then tomorrow or the next day. Nine straight hours of people and noise will also challenge your introvert’s need for quiet. Then there is the simple fact that you have struggled with learning letters and numbers, and will be behind some (hopefully not most) of your classmates. Read more…
Our idyllic summer adventure has been full of many wonderful moments, when my children’s joy made my heart feel as if it would burst. My one-year-old discovered the ocean and insisted upon charging into it again and again, laughing gleefully when waves knocked him down. My three-year-old has really gotten into the safari mindset, and orders my husband to stop the car whenever she sees an animal, be it a giraffe or a pigeon. My five-year-old and I went zip-lining over waterfalls and when I asked him if he was enjoying it, he replied, “This is more fun than I ever imagined it could be!”
But the downside of a three-month vacation is that it can’t all be fun and happiness, something is bound to go wrong from time to time. For example, my eldest was bit by a tick and developed a high fever, leading us to rush him to a late-night clinic (it wasn’t tick bite fever, just a 24 hour bug caused by some other bug). My baby fell down some concrete steps and got badly scraped up. My daughter got lost at a gas station and when a kindly stranger brought her back, she denied my husband was her father. These rough times will fade from our memories of this magical summer. However, there are two days that I will carry with me like painless scars; reminders of close calls where terror turned to triumph. Read more…
Nothing makes me as patriotic as traveling. Don’t get me wrong, the people, animals, and landscapes of South Africa are wonderful, and even the weather has been lovely this “winter” (generally in the 60s each day), and yet, wherever you look there are signs of the corruption and distrust that are robbing this beautiful country of its potential for greatness. Read more…
* Happy Father’s Day! None of this – my blog, my family’s summer-long adventure, or my family itself – would be possible without my amazing husband. Similarly, I would not be as able and willing to take a three-month hiatus from my job and daily pressures without the support and encouragement of my Dad. Both fathers have been instrumental in helping me create my dream life. Thank you! *
As I wrote in my last post, my family has taken the summer off from our hectic schedule of work, preschool, dance / gymnastics / swimming / soccer classes, birthday parties, play dates, home improvement projects, yard maintenance, etc. in the hopes of slowing down for some quality time together before my oldest starts kindergarden. As much as we enjoy all the people and fun activities in our daily life, we seem to always be busy doing something so there doesn’t seem to be much time left for actually living. Far too often, when one of my kids will ask me to read a book, play a game, or do yoga with them, I say something like, “Sure honey, I’d love to, right after . . . . ” but never get around to it. This summer, I have been able to enthusiastically respond, “Yeah, let’s do it!”
In recent months, I’ve also grown uncomfortable with how much my husband and I instruct our kids to “hurry up,” “sit down,” and “be quiet.” The reality of our busy life means that we are often trying to get somewhere, but it is completely understandable that my child wants to finish the Lego robot he’s building or examine the new flower bud that’s sprouted on her way to get in the car. Why should what we care about always take precedence over what they care about at a given moment? This summer, on the other side of the world with nothing we have to do and nowhere we need to go, we are allowing the kids to set the pace most of the time (although not when there’s a plane to catch or it’s bedtime). Similarly, research has shown that human beings should not sit as much as we do, and kids especially need movement to learn about the world around them. So we are letting them run and climb and even stand at the dinner table if they want. Finally, I don’t want my kids to lose their shout. Their zeal is still unrestrained by social expectations and self-consciousness. They get caught up in a moment of joy, surprise, imagination, anger, or frustration and get LOUD. I want that to be acceptable this summer. Read more…
One of the ways our family likes to pass the time when we are traveling is to tell collaborative stories. We each take turns adding a sentence until we agree the tale is complete. The narration tends to be fast-moving, but this time I did my best to keep up so I could record this one. It’s called: “Clabba and Llabba’s Happy Adventure.”
Once upon a time, there was a family going on a long trip. They had no food, and that’s why they were going on the trip, so they could get some food. There was a little sheep that lived with the family and it went on the trip with them. Since everyone in the car had no food, they stopped at the side of the road and made a sign that said, “Please give us some money for food.”
Clabba and Llabba were driving along and they had some food that they shared with the family and their sheep. They all ate fish and chicken together. They all got along so well that the family invited Clabba and Llabba to join them on their trip.
They drove until they reached the darkest forest ever. It was so dark that the family did not want to go near it, but Clabba and Llabba were brave enough so they took the sheep into the woods. They found so many wild animals so they hunted them and brought back lots of food for everyone.
Clabba and Llabba shared the food with everyone, so even the people who did not have any food were not hungry anymore.
The only constant is change. I know this to be true, and yet, like most humans, I find change frightening and uncomfortable, so I resist it even as it is unfolding.
In a mindful leadership course last month, our guide introduced the meditation mantra, “Nothing needs to change right now.” As that temporary reality resonated in my body, my muscles relaxed, I exhaled breath I didn’t know I’d been holding, and I sat straighter as a weight floated off my shoulders. Since then, I have carved out a few minutes each day to sit quietly in this unchanging place. It feels like getting off a merry-go-round; the surroundings still seem to be spinning but I know that I am standing still. There is a moment of residual dizziness, and then, peace. Unfortunately, these calm minutes always pass too quickly. Soon my To Do list resumes its assault and I am thrust back into the world of constant change. Read more…