Friday, November 11, 2016

My Bubble Has Burst

It was going to be a magical night - literally, and figuratively.  Our last night in Disney World, we had plans to go to the "Very Merry Christmas Party" at the Magic Kingdom.  The lines were short and the mood was festive and we even caught the end of the Christmas parade.

A bottle of bubbly was chilling back in our hotel refrigerator, waiting to be uncorked when it was announced at some point that evening that Hillary Clinton would be the first female President of the United States.  It would be a historic event that I would share with my family, and with dear friends who were also on the trip with us.  

I was on the boat back to our hotel when I got the text from my best friend asking if I had seen the news.  What news?  I responded.  That Trump may take Michigan and Wisconsin.  It was then that I knew something was going very wrong.  I was educated during this election cycle, and I knew the swing states and what that meant.  If he had Michigan and Wisconsin, then there was a good chance he would take Pennsylvania and Ohio.  And a few others.  And I was right.  

The whole thing happened so fast.  I broke out the bubbly, but only because I needed a drink to watch the news unfold.  Hours earlier, the news media was so sure of her win.  By the time I turned on the TV back in my hotel room, you could see the writing on the wall from the way John King was talking. And when Vance Jones gave him impassioned, impromptu speech about what he termed the "Whitelash," I shed my first tear of the evening.  It wouldn't be my last.  





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I'm the first to admit that I have a love affair with the Clintons.  It began back in 1992, when for the first time in my life, I become fascinated by politics.  I was from a liberal, Democrat family in the heart of suburban Cincinnati, and the majority of my friends' parents were voting Republican.  I was 13 and awkward and not the most popular girl in school, and in some ways it filled a void for me. I recorded the debates, and the inauguration, and I vowed to be President someday.  Or at least work in politics, for someone like Bill Clinton.

Seven years later I would follow that path straight to the White House as a summer intern, but by that point, it wasn't Bill Clinton that I wanted to work for.  It was his wife.  When I filled out my assignment preferences, my first pick was "Office of the First Lady."  I can't pinpoint why, but over the years, the subject of my admiration had moved from the President to her.  I respected her intellect, her passion, her tenacity, and the fact that she had withstood more public criticism and shame than any other public figure I had seen in my lifetime.  There was talk that she would run for Senate, and if she did, I wanted on the bandwagon.



I had hoped that my White House internship would be a life changing experience, but admittedly, it wasn't.  I felt like a fish out of water in Washington.  I didn't know anybody, and I didn't know how to respond to the namedropping and ladder climbing and manipulation that went on, even amongst the interns.  It scared me, frankly, and instead of rising to the occasion and getting back in there after my college graduation, I cowered.  I moved to England for two years.  And then I went to law school. And the rest is history.

During my days in law school, and even more so when I started my first big law job at Skadden Arps, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't constantly questioning my direction.  Why had I abandoned my political aspirations?  Why wasn't I in DC, working for something I felt passionately about?  Working for Senator Clinton?  Or at least trying to?  I don't know the answer.  Perhaps it was fear, risk aversion, a sense that that ship had sailed on without me, and that I was in too deep to a different career.  I felt lost.  In any event, once I had my children the decision was easy - I would be a stay at home mom and leave a job I was never passionate about in the first place.

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In the aftermath of the election, there's been a lot of talk about bubbles.  And my God, do I live in one.  Half of the American people voted for Donald Trump, and I can honestly say that I only know two of them.  I live in Bethesda, Maryland, right on the outskirts of DC.  In DC proper, Hillary Clinton received 93% of the vote.  In my county in Maryland, she received 76% of the vote.  I don't know a single person in the DC or Maryland area that voted for Trump - at least, they wouldn't admit it if they did.  And I suppose I don't blame them - in my community, admitting such a fact would be shameful.  Myself, and those around me, viewed Trump as racist, sexist, ignorant, and dangerous.  If people disagreed, they didn't make it known.

In Bethesda I live amongst the 1%, and I am one of them myself.  I live in a new construction home in a nice neighborhood.  We send our three kids to private schools, and have access to excellent healthcare.  I was in the incredible position to be able to quit my job and stay at home with my kids when they were young.  Someone comes and cleans our house once a week.  There is an expectation that my kids will go to good colleges and get good jobs.

It's hard to remind myself of how lucky we are at times, because where I live, this is all normal.  Our friends are doctors and lawyers and government employees and professionals.  They are African American, gay, Muslim, and hail from various different countries.  We aren't extravagant, no one owns their own jet, and no one really views themselves as "rich," even though I am sure were are considered so by objective standards.  I drive a Honda minivan, will only buy retail if something is on sale, and have never owned a designer bag.  But we don't stress about money.  And I know that if a crisis occurred, whatever that would be, financially we could weather it.

I know this isn't the normal America.

I have read about the depressed parts of the country - where there are no jobs and factories are closing and heroin addiction is rampant.  I drive through these communities on occasion, when I drive through Pennsylvania or Ohio on the way to visit friends.  I shudder and think about how fortunate I am when all I have to do is pass through.  And I have to admit, I don't feel all that comfortable there.  A month ago, when en route to my 20th high school reunion in Ohio, I was aghast at the number of Trump signs in the yards.  Who are these people?  I thought to myself.

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In the days since the election, I have been reading voraciously. And a few articles have answered that question I posed back in October - who are these people?

I've been comforted to realize that most of the people who voted for Trump aren't the racist, sexist, bigoted people that you see on the news at Trump rallies.  Instead, they are economically depressed, left behind, and desperate.

Today, in an Op-Ed for the Washington Post, Debbie Dingell, the House Representative for Michigan's 12th Congressional District, wrote the following:

The ordinary working man or woman in this country isn't asking for a lot.  They want to make a decent living.  They want to be able to provide for their family, buy a home in a safe neighborhood, put food on the table, go to the doctor when they need to, afford their medicines and educate their children.  What many don't understand is how these things are in danger of becoming unattainable for too many Americans.  

Reading this jogged my memory of something I read back in June by Michael Moore, about the Rust Belt and the "5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win":

From Green Bay to Pittsburgh, this, my friends, is the middle of England - broken, depressed, struggling, the smokestacks strewn across the countryside with the carcass of what we used to call the Middle Class.  Angry, embittered working (and nonworking) people who were lied to by the trickle-down of Reagan and abandoned by Democrats who still try to talk a good line but are really just looking forward to rub one out with a lobbyist from Goldman Sachs who'll write them [a] nice big check before leaving the room.  What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here.  

It's easy for me to feel self righteous when I have the ability to.  When it comes to political issues, I focus on what I feel are social ones.  These are deal breakers for me.  Racism?  Sexism? LGBTQ rights?  Restricting access to abortion?  Restricting access to healthcare?  Gun control?  These are important to me, and I vote accordingly.  The fact that a Democrat in office may mean that we pay more taxes is irrelevant to me.  I feel that the amount of money we would lose out on is worth it for the greater good.  Economic considerations are the last on my list when it comes to politics.

I have the luxury of feeling this way.

But what I have realized in the past few days is that most people don't.

David Wong, in his article entitled Don't Panic, said it best:

That sick feeling some of you have right now?  [Trump supporters] had that for the last eight years. Call them racists if you want - some of them definitely are - but mostly they're regular people who want jobs, security, and safety.  Part of [the] bubble effect is that we're often shielded from "the other side" just enough that only the loudest, craziest assholes leak through.  Some of you never had a single polite conversation with a Trump supporter, but did hear about hate crimes and the baffling Reddit spammers and Breitbart bigots.  You didn't think Trump could win because you didn't think half the country could be crazy assholes.  Well I've got good news: You were right.  If you focus on the racism and ignore the economic anxiety, your intentionally blinding yourself to much of the problem. It doesn't matter how much you hate them; their concerns must be heard and addressed or else this will happen again.  

I have to believe that most people who voted for Donald Trump are decent people.  I don't understand how they could support such a candidate, but I want to.  I want to learn and listen.  

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As a woman, I never experienced blatant workplace discrimination.  Law firms do a pretty good job of recruiting women, at least at the junior levels (becoming partner is a different story), and they walk the PC walk.  But they don't always talk the talk.  And when it came time for me to have children, and ask for a flexible work schedule, I was ashamed.  I was embarrassed.  I felt that asking for more of a balance was an admission of a lack of loyalty and passion for my job.  That I wasn't being a "team player."  Men didn't do that, that's for sure, and I didn't have any women mentors to look to who had paved the way.  Though my request for part time was eventually approved, it was met with resistance.  And in some ways, I never fully recovered from that.  It was easy to eventually quit.

Since leaving my job, I have become much more aware of struggles women face in the workplace, in raising their children, and in ultimately re-entering the workplace.  It's tough out there, and we women get little support.  Little support from employers, from fellow women, and from the government - the United States is the only developed country not to offer paid maternity leave, and the options for affordable childcare are deplorable.

And as a mother,  I also started noticing some other things.

I started noticing that there were "girl" sections and "boy" sections in the toy store, and what was marketed to each.  Girls are mothers, caregivers, and beauticians.  Boys are train engineers, builders, and mechanics.

I started noticing that in Disney movies, the women are always scantily dressed and pining after "Prince Charming."  I mean, have you really taken a look at Ariel lately?



I started noticing that terms like "throw like a girl" and "cry like a girl" are derogatory by their very nature.  I was shocked and appalled to realize that at a young age, my boys would balk at the color pink because it was a "girl color."

When I breastfed my three babies, I started noticing that there really wasn't a convenient place to do so in public.  I endured nasty stares from random strangers, and the insinuation that I was doing something vulgar or wrong.  I started noticing that I was the one that always had to change the baby's diapers when we were outside of the home, because men's public restrooms never have changing tables.

And as I started thinking about re-entering the workforce, I realized that this "break" of motherhood I had taken was really frowned upon.  I started thinking about "resume gaps" and salary reductions and a general notion that I had jumped ship and no one wanted me back on.

I started realizing that patriarchy is alive in well, in subtle and not so subtle ways.

When I initially started admiring Hillary Clinton back in the 90s, it wasn't because she was a woman. But when she received the Democratic nomination for President, the fact that she was a woman was especially thrilling.

I watched most of her speeches and every debate.  I watched her outfits get analyzed and her rare demonstrations of emotions be judged.  I watched her be criticized for the infidelities of her husband.  I watched her get threatened with imprisonment, be faced with her husband's mistresses at a live debate, and be called a "nasty woman" to her face, and her not even flinch.  She stuck to message, stuck to the issues, and handled it with grace and dignity in a way that I never could.  And what choice did she have?  Could she vehemently defend herself?  Get angry?  No, a woman can't do that.  A woman who did that would be a "bitch."  She would be "unstable."  Or, I suppose, a nasty woman.

Throughout the campaign, there was constant talk of how hated Hillary Clinton was by a large portion of Americans.  For the life of me, I don't understand why.  Because of emails?  Because of an attitude problem?  Because of allegations of corruption for which she has been cleared?  Because she was stoic and strong and rehearsed?  Because she's changed positions on issues, like every politician to ever run for office?  I'm not saying she doesn't have her flaws, but there is a hatred towards her that eclipses hatred for any other politician in our modern time.  Is her biggest flaw that she is a strong, independent woman?  Is that too hard to handle for men and women alike?

Here's how I view Hillary - This is a woman that has devoted her life to public service and endured scrutiny, abuse, and humiliation, and she kept on going.  She is smart, she is strong, she is experienced, and she is inspiring.

Hillary Clinton is a hero and I will make sure that my kids know it.

She would have made a great President.

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On election day I woke up in a sleep deprived, hungover haze, and gathered the kids and luggage and went to the Orlando airport, to take our flight back to DC, and back to reality.  Once we had made it through baggage claim, my father called.  We spoke briefly, but it was enough.

The tears flowed, and I had to sit down and have a big, ugly cry.  And I couldn't stop them.  Walking to the gate, running to the bathroom, boarding the plane.  I looked around at everyone else and everyone seemed to be carrying on as normal.  Checking their phones, buying a coffee, pulling their luggage.  I wanted to scream out - DON'T YOU ALL REALIZE WHAT HAS HAPPENED?  DON'T YOU REALIZE THE WORLD HAS CHANGED?  HOW CAN YOU ALL BE ACTING SO NORMAL WHEN THE WORLD HAS BEEN TURNED UPSIDE DOWN? 

This isn't to say that people weren't reeling inside.  I'm sure many were.  But I was desperate to find someone else who looked distressed, who looked shell shocked.  I wanted to hug a stranger more than I ever have in my life.

Instead, I took out my phone and scrolled through my Facebook feed.  I found solidarity there.  I joined every Pantsuit Nation Facebook group I could find.  But there is something to be said for personal contact.  For not hiding behind our phones and computers.  For getting out there and comforting each other.  And so yesterday, I went out sporting my Hillary T-shirt, which had ironically arrived the day after the election.  Just in case someone else needed to know that they weren't alone.



In dealing with my sadness the past couple of days, my first reaction was to hide my tears from my children, who are too young to really understand the ramifications of the election.  I didn't want to scare them, and I didn't want them to see me being "weak."  But eventually, I changed my mind.  I want them to see this.  I want them to remember this.  I want them to say, when they are older, that they remember the day Donald Trump was elected president.  And that they remember their mother crying.

I come from a long line of political activists.  My paternal grandparents were both communists in the 1940s, and loved to brag that each of them had their own FBI file.  My Dad participated in the March on Washington when he was 19 years old, and went on to protest the Vietnam War and join the Peace Corps.  My great aunt and uncle were marching in protests until they got too old to march anymore.

My Great Aunt Evelyn
I've always felt strongly about political issues, but I've never taken it to that next step.  I've thought about it, and I've planned on it, but it just hasn't happened.  Part of it is the fact that I didn't feel there was a need to.  Civil rights, women's rights - that was already taken care of, right?  Gay marriage? Check.  Gun control?  I can't make a difference anyway.

I'm not proud of my complacency and my willingness to live happily ever after in the little bubble I've been residing in.

This week, my bubble has burst.

I don't wish failure upon Donald Trump's presidency.  I hope that he renounces the bigotry and racism some of his supporters have shown.  I hope he backs off on the various threats he has made during his candidacy, like banning Muslims, building a wall, punishing women for having an abortion, and prosecuting Hillary Clinton.

But if he doesn't, I am going to do what I can to fight.  I'm not sure what form that will take, but I vow to do it to the best of my ability, even if it involves time, money, and sacrifice.   I alone cannot change the world, but I can, as Gandhi so eloquently put it, be the change I wish to see in the world.

I start with this post.  Numerous times times during the past few months I considered writing about the election, but I hesitated because I didn't want to delve into politics on this forum, and didn't want anyone to feel ostracized.  Fuck that.  This is just a small blog with a small readership, but it's my space, and shame on me for being silent.

None of us can afford to be silent anymore.  Particularly in the next four years, we must make it our mission to understand each other, to speak up and defend those who are vulnerable, and to make personal sacrifices to fight for what is right.

To those who aren't in a bubble, and who have never been in one - I promise you that I will stand with you for the next four years, and as long as it takes.  You are not alone.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Kidsults

In my 8 years of being a parent, I have endured my fair share of verbal abuse from my children. Most of it is generic - You're the worst mom ever; You're so mean; I'm never talking to you again; I hate you, etc.  Blah blah blah, been there done that; it's all white noise to me.

But some of it, particularly from my 8 year old, has been truly amazing.  I'm talking evil, well thought out, deep, authentic insults.  A few years ago, I started writing them down, and today, I am officially launching my new website Kidsults, where you can purchase said insults on t-shirts, onesies, and coffee mugs.

Here are a sampling of some of the invectives that appear on the products: 




Are these not the most fabulous insults ever?  

For years now, my husband and I have been saying we need to make a business out of this.  It started out as a joke, and then two weeks ago, I started playing on the internet and here we are. This is a fun whim, and if it turns out to amount to something, I'll have my kids to thank.  And you. Because the only real marketing I'm doing is on this blog.  So share, share, share, if you are so inclined.  :)

You can find the official website here (www.kidsults.com).

You can like the Facebook page here.

You can follow us on Twitter here.

And on Instagram here.

Thanks for any and all of your support!  And if you do purchase something, send me a picture of you or your child sporting the kidsult (you can email me at kidsultsemail@gmail.com or butidohaveawaadegree@gmail.com).





Wednesday, September 28, 2016

One Foot in Front of the Other

Adulthood throws curveballs, that much I've learned.

In my twenties I was naive enough to think that I had it all planned out, how our life would go.  And why wouldn't I?  I was doing everything right, checking the boxes.  Kids and job and health and suburbs and nice vacations - smooth sailing.

At first, blips in my steady line would literally sweep me off my feet.  Family turmoil, peanut allergies, post partum depression, sudden deaths in relatively young relatives - it would all become overwhelming in a way that I could barely cope, for the short term.  The loss of control over my life trajectory, and the reminder that I really had no control, would send me into a tailspin, complete with insomnia, anxiety attacks, and a general malaise.  I like to think, thanks to therapy, medication, and just the wisdom of getting older, that I can now handle these blips better - that I am more accepting, more in the present moment, more at peace.

My husband had a seizure last October while he was on a jogging trail, and it came out of nowhere. He was discovered by fellow joggers and taken away on a stretcher, when he called me from the ambulance.  My first view of him at the hospital was jarring - he was out of it, bloody, and bruised.  No, no, no, I remember thinking, This is not our life.  This is not how it goes.   MRI's, CT scans, and EEGs followed, all coming out normal.  I impressed myself with my sense of calm throughout the whole ordeal, and had an odd sense of confidence that everything would be fine. And it was. After six months, we exhaled.  He started driving again.  Onward and upward.

My husband was drowsy and a bit detached on Sunday night, but after some marathon conference calls, I couldn't blame him.  He was stressed, and hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, thanks to a law firm cocktail party, where both of us had indulged in one too many.

Was that what did it?  The alcohol?  The lack of sleep?  The stress?  

We both got into bed at 9pm, and engaged in the bad habit of scrolling through our phones, eyes scanning the electronics.  The TV was also on - lights flashing, noises coming from all sides.

The flashes?  The sound?  

I showed him a political quote someone posted about Donald Trump - "If you ever wonder what you would have done in 1930s Germany well then my friend here is your fucking chance to find out."

I don't get it.  He said.

Annoyed, and convinced he just wasn't really paying attention to me, I tersely responded, What don't you get about it?  

And that's when he left.

He let out a loud groan and his eyes rolled into the back of his head.  His muscles tightened and he rolled into the fetal position, then quickly straightened out, and started shaking.

I think I called out for him.  I think I put my hands on him to try to rouse him.  I'm not sure.

But I know what I did next.  I ran out of the room.  It was a pure fight or flight response.

I wanted out.  I wanted to disappear, I wanted him to disappear.  I didn't want this to be happening.

I stood outside the room for 5 seconds, came to my senses, and ran back in.  There he was, still convulsing on the bed.  His face was beginning to turn white.  I picked up the phone and called 911, and clearly remember saying: My husband is having a seizure.  Send someone.  Please.  

Later, numerous doctors would ask me how long the seizure lasted.  I can honestly say I don't know. Two minutes?  Ten minutes?  Time stopped and then moved slowly and then quickly again.  I know I turned him on his side.  I know I went downstairs to unlock the door for the paramedics, put the dog in a closet so she wouldn't run out, and closed the children's bedroom doors so God willing, they wouldn't wake up when the ambulance got there.  I remember continually asking the 911 operator, Where are they? and then apologizing for my hysteria.  I remember crying.  I remember my heart racing out of my chest.  I remember feeling faint and willing myself to remain calm.  I remember the immense feeling of relief I felt when the paramedics arrived.  By then, he was starting to rouse.

What is your name?  What day of the week is it ? Who is President of the United States?  

He could not answer any of their questions.

They carried him downstairs on a stretcher.  I had the wherewithal to give one of the paramedics my husband's phone, knowing that when he came to he would want it, and it would be a way to communicate with him.  I closed the door, texted our babysitter, and then waited, in a quiet house, for her to arrive so I could go to the hospital.

I called my sister in law.  I paced.  I dry heaved in the bathroom.   I gathered some clothes for my husband to bring to the hospital, since he was carried out in his underwear.  I ordered an uber, because I didn't trust myself to drive, and thanked God that my children slept through the whole incident, and would be none the wiser in the morning.

When I arrived at the ER, I was directed to his room, and realized it was the same room he had been in 11 months prior, when he experienced his first seizure.

I was blissfully ignorant that first time around.  Convinced that this was a freak accident, a blip, something to get through and deal with and then put behind us.  I was stoic and calm then, having had the benefit of my own ignorance of what it exactly was that my husband had just gone through.

This time, I had seen it with my own eyes.  He was there, talking to me.  Then he wasn't.  His mind - the essence of who he is - was taken over by electrical impulses in his brain that went haywire, taking him away from consciousness, from reality, from me.  The fact that he came back from that, from the involuntary writhing body I saw lying on our bed, is a miracle in and of itself.

I wrote a post last year about my husband's first seizure, and in it, I quoted a non-fiction book I had just recently read, Do No Harm - Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery, authored by a neurosurgeon.  Having witnessed my husband literally lose his mind, it now takes on new meaning:

"In neuroscience it is called the 'binding problem' - the extraordinary fact, which nobody can even begin to explain, that mere brute matter can give rise to consciousness and sensation."  

As I sat in an uber on my way to the hospital, I couldn't get that sentiment out of my head.  All we are are our brains - and those brains are so vulnerable.  In an instant, it can be lost.  No matter how much we kid ourselves, we are not in the driver's seat.

I've been on zoloft for three years now, but there's no anti-anxiety medication that could have quelled my nerves that night.  And as I walked through the ER hallways and passed elderly people groaning, patients hooked up to machines, and heard the sirens wailing as another emergency patient was brought in on a stretcher, I don't think I had ever felt so unsafe in my own skin.

We're all going to die.  Someday.  When?  How will it happen?  Will these people die tonight?  Will I?  Will my husband?  What's to stop that from happening?  What's to stop anything bad from happening? Pain and death are inevitable, and I go through life pretending I'm invincible.  What a fool I have been.  Where can I go?  Where can I hide? How dare I bring my children into such a scary, ruthless, painful world? 

I've been through enough therapy to know that these thoughts were irrational, if not expected.  But as I watched my husband doze, passed out from the Ativan they had given him, my mind and heart raced in a well synchronized dance.  I willed myself to cry, knowing that crying helps release the anxiety, the pain, the fear.  I did a little.  Just a little.

The doctor put my husband on anti-seizure medication, and sent us home that night.  My sleep that night was fitful to say the least, and I was haunted by visions from the evening.  One vision in particular has been replaying through my head constantly - my husband looking at the computer. His blank stare.  His eyes rolling back into his head.  My slow motion realization that holy shit, I think he's having a seizure.  His muscles tensing up.  The moment I lost him.

I never, ever want he or I to go through this again.  But I am working on summoning the bravery to face the reality that more likely than not it will - statistics say that if someone has two seizures, they have an 80% chance of having another one.  

This reality has left my husband and I reeling over the past couple of days.  There are the practical implications - no more driving, and no more drinking.  But then there are the questions of how one lives a normal, predictable life, when in a moment's notice, it all can change.  My husband is at the whim of the electrical currents in his brain, threatening to go haywire and taking away his mind.  And so am I.

And so we embark on the quest of learning to live with uncertainty, knowing full well that in reality, life has never held any guarantees.  Coming to peace with that will be my work, and as a recovering control freak, it's work I need.  I know this.

But I'm not too proud to admit that I'm dejected.  I'm sad.  And I'm so, so scared.

For now, it's one foot in front of the other.   And finding grace, and peace, in each step.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Last Birthday Sleepover

For each of my sons, starting on their third birthdays, one of the "gifts" I give them is a sleepover in their bed.  Sleepovers in my bed don't happen all that often, but me sleeping in their bed is a true treat.  And as much as I complain the next day (about being kicked in the stomach, sleeping on a six inch stretch of bed, and being awoken at 5:30am), I really love it too.  When I awake during the night, during one of the many nudges and jabs, I take the time to stare at their sleeping faces and just admire it - remembering the baby that it once was, and the little boy that it has become.

Braden turned 8 last week.  Sleepovers are still something he desires, but this year he opted to sleep in our bed, with both my husband and I.  I have to admit I was a bit slighted at first, and reluctant to share him, but happy to be in a king sized bed.  That night, before I fell asleep, I went through the ritual of staring at his face, and for the first year it was nearly impossible to recognize the baby in him.  That infant face of my firstborn, the way he cried and pursed his lips and fell asleep on my chest. The notion was almost impossible to reconcile - who was that and who is this and how can it possibly be the same person?


Braden is no longer an infant, a toddler, or even a little boy.  He's a kid with long lanky legs that hang to my shins if I ever happen to pick him up (which is getting nearly impossible these days).  He is complicated and philosophical and creative and stubborn and completely his own person.  I've learned in my 8 years of motherhood that I can't take credit for who he is - his intricacies and achievements and failures are solely his own.  He is at times a reflection of myself, with his deep thoughts and anxieties, and at other times a stranger to me, who I get to rediscover each day as he evolves into the person that he is meant to be.

I still lay with Braden each night before bed and we talk about his day, and he professes his love for me.  He always has been one with words.

Gradually these words have taken on a more mature form.   They are no longer gibberish (Me love mommy); instead they are thought out and eloquent.  I am so lucky to have you as a mommy.  I never want to leave you.  I love you more than anything in the world.   He writes these words too, but his handwriting isn't so wobbly anymore when he writes me love notes or makes me cards at school.  And now, with his 8th birthday, his words have taken electronic form - it took him about 2 hours to get accustomed to his new iPod Touch that he got for his birthday, and his first text message to me read: "Can you take me to school today because I love you so much so so much mom."

(His words of aggression can be just as poignant, but I'll save those for another post.)

That boy is the love of my life (along with his two brothers), but I am fully cognizant of the fact that I won't always be his.  Someday the whispers of sweet nothings will stop, as will the love notes, and the love texts, and the birthday sleepovers.

This year I had to share him, and one year, maybe next, he'll decide he doesn't want to sleep next to his mother anymore at all.

I'll understand his decision, but oh how I'll miss it.

Happy 8th birthday to my baby boy, Braden.  What a beautiful ride it's been so far.


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Thursday, July 14, 2016

When a Childless Gay Man from England Visits an American Suburban Housewife for 9 Days, Fun Things Happen


First, you immediately abandon your healthy eating/alcohol abstinence plan for the first couple of weeks in July.  You plan to pretend you aren't an American suburban housewife with three kids for those 9 days, to the extent possible.

The next thing to go is sleep, which became apparent on Day 1 of the visit.  You set a self imposed curfew of midnight, then you extend it by 30 minutes.  And then another.  And another.  Then you lose track of time and say fuck it and stay up into the wee hours talking and laughing about anything and everything.  You realize how much you have missed your friend, who after 16 years, is more like family.

You wake up completely hungover on Day 2, the 4th of July, but resolve to do something fun, because you can't have a British visitor come to Washington, DC for the 4th and not see fireworks or do something American-y.  You look outside and see pouring rain.  So you spend the day at the Winery at Bull Run instead, with kids in tow and a husband willing to be the designated driver.


When your kids start to get restless, your friend introduces them and you to snapchat and you all become obsessed with the pictures feature where you can do weird things to your face.  Much laughter ensures, the loudest by the adults.  Hours of enjoyment were had.


That evening, you set a bedtime again, and once again abandon it.  You realize that this is just how it's going to go for 9 days, and it's entirely worth it to spend time with a best friend you rarely see. You cancel your reservation to go to a Precision Running class on the morning of Day 3.

After two days of drinking, you vow to have a chill day.  You bring your English friend along to preschool pick ups and drop offs, and he even agrees to babysit for a brief stint, after you promise him that the 2 year old will sleep the whole time anyway, and even if he wakes up, he wouldn't have pooped. (You lie about both, and your friend changes his first ever diaper).

Around 5pm, you decide that going out to dinner can still constitute a chill night.  You walk into Bethesda and go to Passion Fish and upon arriving see camera men and lights and HOLY CRAP THEY ARE FILMING THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF POTOMAC AND YOU AND YOUR FRIEND MAY BE THE ONLY TWO PEOPLE IN THE WORLD THAT ACTUALLY WATCHED EVERY EPISODE.  Excitement ensues and must be quelled in order to enter a sophisticated, quiet restaurant.  You discourage your friend from "accidentally" tripping on the floor near the filming and proclaiming his love of the show in an exaggerated English accent.  The fact that you didn't take a picture is criminal, but this was the housewife that was there (with an unknown friend - perhaps a new cast member for the second season?):

Robyn Dixon - she looked absolutely fabulous in person.

You decide cocktails are in order for the occasion, and the night follows the pattern of the previous ones.

By Day 4, you are exhausted, but you power through.  You've endured childbirth, newborn induced insomnia, and working at a law firm.  Sleep is for the weak, and you have big plans for Wednesday night - tickets to see the 90s cover band, White Ford Bronco at the National Building Museum. Your friend is excited that he will be able to say he did one cultural thing during his visit, and to prove it you take fun pictures within the Iceberg exhibit...



You watch with disgust, horror, and mild interest as a random couple make out....

See back right.  

And you dance like crazy to 90s hits that shockingly your British friend has never heard before.

Corrina and I breaking it down to a Blink 182 cover.

By Day 5, your friend has fully embraced the suburban lifestyle and has accepted the disgusting mess of crumbs and wet towels that fills your minivan. The two year old now believes he has joined the family, and asks for him immediately at camp pick-up.  His babysitting duties are once again employed when you take your older two to swim practice, and you soon realize that he and your toddler in love.  It's fitting, given that said toddler was named after him, and the whole thing melts your heart a bit.

Colin Samuel with his friend Sam.
Another attempt at a chill evening - a dinner date and a movie - ended in more Snapchat fun :







On Day 6, you give your British friend the quintessential Friday night suburban housewife experience.  First stop, a home in Chevy Chase, DC for Friday movie night with the kids, and second stop, cocktails on the patio at a friend's house in Potomac (sans kids).  You put on makeup for the occasion (and explain that this is basically the only time you do that), and your friend is extremely patient with you and your mom friends as you gossip about schools and paint colors and when you will once again start the Whole 30, if ever.
Me with a little bit of make-up.  

Your friend meshes with everyone (as he always does) and you start to wonder how you ever will get on without him.  You attempt to convince him to leave London and move into your basement. He considers.

On Day 7 your friend joins you on an overnight trip to the Eastern shore and stands in as husband and father for you and your two older children (as the actual husband and father stayed back with the toddler).  He manages to wake up before 8am and not kill your kids on the two hour drive to a beautiful house your friends have rented right outside of St. Michael's.  He meets 4 of your best friends and a couple of their husbands upon arrival and everyone loves him immediately.  One thing you've always loved about him - you truly can take him anywhere.

You take nice photos on the dock.



You nearly die together when you allow your 7 year old to drive a golf cart (this may very well be the funniest video ever taken - watch until the end):





You partake in plank competitions (all groups of friends do this, right?).  Out of 6 participants, your friend wins (you come in third at an impressive 3 minutes).


Your group plays a riveting game of Cards Against Humanity, which your friend also wins.  No pictures were taken (which was probably for the best).  But, it must be recorded for posterity that the best card played during the two hour session was "Dick Fingers."  You finally go to bed around 1:30am only to realize that the king sized bed you and your friend are sharing is miniature in length and your legs hang off at the shins.  The involuntary laughter that ensues keeps you both up for even longer.

On Day 8, you wake up in pain.  You realize that the reason your friend has been able to keep going so well all week is that he gets to sleep in as late as he wants.  As you get out of bed at 7am to make breakfast for your kids, you hate him and love him at the same time.

You pack up, you rally, you drive home (your friend is lucky enough not to have a driver's license), and you manage not to have a panic attack navigating the Bay Bridge.  Your passengers are irritatingly chipper, but you realize it's because they've finally bonded.


You know it's your friend's last night in town, and you vow to go to bed at a reasonable hour, as surely you cannot go on.  But somehow, after all the kids go to bed and your husband has passed out, you push back your bedtime in 30 minute increments once again.  And before you know it, both you and your friend are crying because it will all be over soon.

You would think that Day 9 would be a mundane, standard day since your friend has to leave for the airport at 4pm, but you would be wrong.  Unfortunately, there are some stories from that day that cannot be shared, including a video of the craziest uber driver ever.  Your friend is holding that video close so that he can start a website about crazy taxi/uber drivers and earn enough money to fly back to the U.S. whenever he wants.

That evening, with life back to normal and the opportunity to get a restful, full night's sleep, you are depressed.

You are depressed because once again, you are alone.  Having a co-stay at home parent for 9 days has been wonderful, and the solitude of making the kids dinner and putting them to bed by yourself, with your husband working late, is stark.

You are depressed because as exhausting as the past 9 days were, they were fun.  More fun than you have had in any consecutive 9 day period since God knows when.  Your friend brings you back to who you were before having kids - before settling down, and being responsible, and worrying about getting enough sleep.  To the time when you were free and young and energetic, and you miss that person.  Sometimes it's hard to fathom that that person could have ever been you.

You are depressed because you have gained 5 pounds in 9 days.

But you are also happy.  You are happy because you had 9 days with a lifelong friend, filled with laughter, deep talks, and memories you'll reminisce about for years come.  You are happy to have a husband that pitched in to allow you to do all of that.  You are happy that you have three amazing kids kids that truly love your friend, and that the feeling is mutual.

You are also happy because you realize that soul mates don't only exist in romantic relationships, they come in many different shapes and forms, and that your friend is the yin to your yang.  You realize how lucky you are to have found that person, and that friends never lose their importance in your life, no matter how old you get, and no matter how entrenched in motherhood you become.

You are just happy.

And then, you sleep for 10 hours straight.

We love you, Sam!





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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hello Out There

You know how when a friend calls you, and you keep meaning to call them back, but then the longer it gets you almost get too embarrassed to call them back because so much time has passed, and then you are filled with shame and question whether to just end the friendship because you've left it too long and you're just a shitty person?

That's how I've been with this blog.

It's been over two months since I have written, which is stark given that I used to write every day.

Here's the honest truth - over the past year, this blog has felt more like a chore than a joy.  I've been feeling so much pressure to deliver unique posts, with good writing and deep thoughts and wry humor.  I'll start writing and then realize that it's crap and then not want to open my computer again, because it's just another thing on my list to do.

Then, this morning, sitting in a coffee shop listening to my "writing music" list on Spotify and finishing up a freelance project, I got the urge to write.  Even though I don't really have anything to write and I only have 28 minutes to do it, here I am.  This won't be an insightful, witty post you forward around to your friends.  But, I'm writing it anyway.

The truth is, life has been overwhelmingly busy lately.  Having three kids has caught up with me. There's always a swim practice to attend, a camp pick up, an illness, a deadline, a house to clean, a barbecue to buy food for, 3 pounds to lose, gym classes to go to in order to lose said 3 pounds, three meals to prepare, numerous trips to Johns Hopkins with two kids now in peanut allergy trials, essays to write for writing classes I'm taking, mammograms to schedule, books I keep meaning to read, friends to call back (see above), assignments to grade for online classes I teach, school PA meetings, skin care regimes to stick to, sunscreen to apply (on 4 bodies), and a thousand other things including daily bathing and sleeping.

I'm not complaining, really.  These things are necessary, and some I've brought on myself.  And in fact, I've been happier in the past 6 months than I have been in a long time.  I've been going out a lot with friends (stay tuned for a post on the best night ever at a bar with a 90's cover band) - more than I ever have since having children.  I suppose in some ways, after 8 years I am coming up for air a bit and rediscovering a semblance of a social life.  I've also taken two writing classes now, where I've met some of the most incredible people, and I've actually published one piece, inspired by a blog I wrote on here in what seems like forever ago.  I've planned a bunch of vacations and trips (look out Napa Valley, my husband and I will take you by storm in September).  I've had a ton of visitors to our Bethesda abode, including my childhood best friend last month, and my best friend from London arrives on Sunday.  I've gone to Philadelphia to see the Zack Brown Band with my best friend from college, and my husband and I saw Richard Marx at the Birchmere last month (you read that right).  In between all of this, I've managed to get pretty good at yoga.  I can do a headstand and the crow pose and I am so freaking proud of myself.

But I also struggle... daily.  Parenting has gotten harder and harder, and the physical challenges of toddlerhood have turned into emotional ones as my kids enter grade school.  Two nights ago, after losing my shit on multiple occasions, I went to bed telling myself what a horrible mother I was, and envisioning what my kids will say about me in therapy someday.  It was a low point, with an internal voice saying - You're fucking your kids up.  You're failing.  You aren't cut out for this.  You suck.

The next morning, I took a deep breath and forgave myself and started a new day.

But shit, this is hard.  In between all of the sun and fun and good stuff, it's still really hard.

I worry.  I cry.  I try to stay in the present and get angry at myself when my mind wanders to those places that are painful and don't do anyone any good.

I'm not ready to stop writing this blog.  I've got so much more to say.  I'm going to try to say it more often.

Thanks for sticking with me.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Coming Full Circle

When I was in 5th grade, I decided I wanted to be a writer.  I was obsessed with Judy Blume and became equally obsessed in writing my own young adult novel.  I began writing first drafts of first chapters of various books, never progressing beyond that.  After a couple of years, I gave up and moved onto poetry, mainly focusing on my junior high crush at the time who wanted nothing to do with me.

By 9th grade, it was clear none of my books were ever going to be completed, and my poetry wasn't all that great (and by then, my crush was over).  I moved onto politics, became obsessed with the 1992 presidential elections, and ultimately convinced myself that I should go into the legal field.

Yada yada yada, now I'm in my late 30's, a retired lawyer at home with three kids, contemplating what I eventually want to do with my life.  Continue staying home full time? Focus on volunteering? Go back to a full time job?  Do something completely different?  What I do know, that I didn't back in the 90's, is that I don't want to go back to the legal field.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

When the World Becomes Scary

I was living in London on April 20, 1999 when the Columbine shooting happened.  It was all over the London tabloids.  And I remember it not primarily for the horror of it all, though that's of course its legacy.  I remember it because it's the first time that a world event scared me.

Perhaps I was more naive than most, but at age 20, I was impervious to the news.  It flowed off of me.  Back then, I was young and indestructible and everything in the news happened to "other" people.  I had come from a protected midwest city and gone to a protected college town and finally to London, a place, notwithstanding its peppered history, that was a safe haven among the plethora of other places to study abroad as a college student.

And maybe it's because I had been living for a few months in a place where guns were actually illegal, but Columbine scared me.  I actually had nightmares about returning to the United States and being gunned down.  It wasn't the first of my irrational fears, and it certainly wouldn't be the last, but it left a mark on me.  These innocent suburban American high school students weren't immune to harm, and neither was I.

Two years later I was living in London again on 9/11.  I was at the LSE library, searching for jobs, when I came across a curious news story on the internet.  The World Trade Centers were on fire.  I turned to the person sitting at the computer next to me, a stranger, and told him that planes were crashing into buildings in New York.  He thought I was crazy and changed seats.  That night, scared as to what was going on in the world and at my mother's recommendation, I avoided the tube and took the bus home, adding 45 minutes to my journey.

That night I was harassed by friends and family urging me to come home.  Come home to what?  I thought.  How do you know home is safe?  How do you know London is not safe?  Where is safe? The whole world seemed like a scary place that day.

I made the decision that night that I was going to stay in London.  And in doing so, I would have to set my fear aside and just come what may.  It was a release of control uncharacteristic of me at the time, but one of emotional survival.  I needed to live my life, and so I did.  I rode the tube, I frequented tourist destinations, and when I went to Egypt that spring, against the urging of loved ones, I did so with the same attitude.  It's not that I was oblivious to risk, it's just that I weighed it and then moved on.  That old adage of the most dangerous part of your travels is your drive to the airport?  It became my mantra.  I felt fear, but did it anyway, and it paid out in spades.  My years in London were some of the best of my life, and my trip to Egypt was fantastic.  I went home to live in Manhattan, work in Times Square, and ultimately move to Washington, DC.  Not exactly a path of the terrorist risk-averse, but it's where life has taken me.  When I hear of a terrorist attack, I take a minute to feel the fear go through me, to reason with myself, to mourn, and to move on.  Life is scary, the world is scary, and we can either live our life constantly aware of that fact, or we can just live.  I try my hardest to do the latter.

But my resolve was put to the test on March 22 - the day of the Brussels bombings.

Friday, March 11, 2016

European Adventures

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was a world traveler.

Nothing extreme, mind you - I wasn't a solo backpacker criss-crossing the globe and becoming a bartender at random cities that struck my fancy (though I did fantasize about it).  Instead, I was a more intense version of a college student with a Eurail pass.  I lived in England in my early 20's and I explored all of Europe, many times over, and then I added in a bit of Egypt, Southeast Asia, and Australia.  When I wasn't traveling, I was researching and planning my next trip.  It was my passion, my hobby, my avocation, and seeing the world - at least part of it - made me feel humble and free.  

Slowly but surely, adulthood crept in, and instead of traveling internationally for months at a time, my trips took the form of week long beach vacations, visits to family, and Disney World expeditions.  It's not that I don't appreciate or enjoy these holidays, but they are for relaxation and fun, instead of discovery.  At times, when I would really think about it, my lack of ability to travel the way I used to would depress me, or leave me feeling trapped.  But I would quickly remind myself that those days are over.  My life, now, is my kids, and that's okay and wonderful and someday I will travel again, if I even want to by the point I am able.  

Then last year, I went to London for a long weekend without the kids.  It was my first time abroad in nearly five years, and it absolutely invigorated me.  Being there - in my old stomping ground, so far away from home - reminded me of who I had been before motherhood had taken over me.  It was like a breath of fresh air, and I returned home determined to not let it go so long ever again.  It was a first step in a journey of reclaiming me again, and one that is ongoing.

But what about the kids?  Though London for a weekend was wonderful, I yearned to do a longer trip where I could actually get over the jet lag.  And who is going to watch my three kids for 10+ days?  And could I really be without them that long anyway?  

There's only one solution - take them with us.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Stay at Home Mom Burnout

Burnout is a thing.  

People talk a lot about career burn out - about losing enthusiasm, drive, and motivation.  What people don't talk about a lot is mom burn out.  And I think I have it.  

I've been a stay at home mom for nearly 5 years now.  For those five years, I have devoted pretty much my everything to my kids.  All my time, my energy, my body.  And really, isn't that what a mother is supposed to do?  Particularly when a mother's job, on a daily basis, is to be a stay at home mother?  I mean, what else is it that I'm supposed to do?  

Sure, I have done some work on the side.  I do see friends regularly.  A year or so ago I started exercising regularly and it's now become a part of my daily routine.  But for the most part, I am all mom, all the time - I eat, sleep, and breathe motherhood.  

I'm burnt out.  

It was brought to my attention the other day that I have lost the joy in parenting.  What a sad, horrible, pathetic acknowledgement, but it's true.  I wake up tired.  I loathe the morning routine of getting the kids up and packed for school, battling through teeth brushing, hair brushing, and wardrobe conflicts.  I go through the motions of taking my youngest to playgroup or to the gym daycare and feed him lunch and put him down for a nap, which he only sometimes takes.  And then around 3:30, I pick my two older kids up from school with a sigh and a hint of dread, knowing that shortly I'll be making dinner, dealing with combat of getting them to eat dinner, cleaning up after dinner, and then starting on the bedtime routine that is not quite, but almost, as tedious as the morning routine.  And then I will do whatever work I need to do, fold laundry, watch junk television, and pray I can sleep through the night without interruption to start the whole thing over the next day.

I hate admitting this apathy, because the truth is, I LOVE my kids.  I love them more than anything.  I am in awe of them and proud of them and think they are pretty much the most awesome human beings on the planet.  So reconciling these two conflicting emotions - burnout, and love, is a weird thing.  And I'm not quite sure what to do about it.  


 
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