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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why Glee Matters To Me

Tomorrow night, the TV series "Glee" quietly exits, its series finale shoved away on a Friday night, seemingly just moments after its last season began in January. I can't say I know many people who will publicly admit to watching the show anymore, especially 37 year old mothers of two with an MBA, but I am a loyalist: once hooked, I tend to stay with things to the bitter end. I don't feel that way about Glee though; I am truly, truly sad to see it ending, though I know it's definitely time to move on.

The central theory of Glee is that being part of something special, makes you special. It's a refrain said many times throughout the series, and if someone had told it to me when I was an eighth grader, it would have found a prominent place in my quote journal. I probably would have posted it in my locker too. Because back then, I knew exactly what that meant.

In eighth grade, in my own middle school in Ohio, I ate lunch everyday in our school's choir room with Jenny, Robbie and Marc (not my husband, though I might have wished this Marc was my boyfriend at the time) and our choir teacher. He was no Mr. Schue, but he was the closest thing I ever had to it. In seventh grade, he selected me as one of the 9 best female singers in our grade, and for the next two years, we were a choral group called Small Girls. That group meant so much to me; it meant that this awkward girl was actually good at something. I could sing. At the end of seventh grade, our choir teacher gave me the sheet music to "The Phantom of the Opera" and said we'd be singing it next year, and I spent a summer obsessing over every note and immersing myself in as much Broadway as I could find. Those choir room lunches in eighth grade were my pinnacle of cool. We sang every day. We endlessly discussed who would get which solos. I remember basking in the heightened atmosphere, of how it all mattered so much, and yet, we were just kids. Nothing was ever that serious. No matter what happened, we were all going to be okay.

Amazingly, one of us did make it to Broadway, but it wasn't me. By ninth grade, I guess something had changed, and I was never in the Glee-equivalent group at my high school. Or, well, I really don't think anything about me had changed, but my plus-size status wasn't what the high school choir director wanted, I guess. Because I could still sing, still can sing. I tried out for years, until I didn't, unable to withstand another rejection, and I had gone on building my life elsewhere. But the bitterness still stings that I was never a part of all that, when it was something I so desperately wanted.

In the magical world that Glee inhabited, those plus-size girls did get to be in the group. Maybe their choreography wasn't as tight, or they altered their outfits a bit, but they were there. And the Jewish girl was there, singing Barbra Streisand with abandon (I think I last auditioned with this song). All of the misfits were there, the literal mis-fits, people I would have loved to be friends with. There were even moments when it felt like the show was talking directly to me, when after some Sue Sylvester-induced disbanding of the Glee club, Brittany looked right into the camera and said "I'm a finance major at Brandeis. It turns out Glee club was really holding me back." I have to say that this Economics major at Brandeis (they don't have finance!), who never made the Glee club, had to admit to loving that one. Because even if I'm bitter about it still, life has worked out despite that disappointment. Maybe it made me stronger.

I can't say that Glee has been perfect. I'll never understand why the show still has a ton of fat-shaming despite its portrayal of some many different body types, but Glee has never been as perfectly tolerant as it seems. The school shooting episode still ranks as one of the worst hours I've ever spent in front of a television. Plot lines were sometimes dropped almost as soon as they were introduced, and characters were shoved aside. But then they handled the death of Cory Monteith so well, or the new-new-New Directions win at Regionals, and I'm back to loving all of it.

After the second season of the show, I went to see the Glee concert tour. It was one of the most indulgent things I've ever done, going with a group of women I barely knew, because I wanted to go that badly. I remember being struck by the way the cast all seemed just so happy to be there. They were supposed to be playing their roles on the show, not themselves, but they all couldn't wipe the grins off of their faces. They genuinely took in the moment, thousands of screaming fans around them, like it was still the first time it was happening to them, despite it having happened the night before and the night before that.

And there are moments like this, which, well, I'm not going to bother to explain, but oh my heart.
I know Glee picked up "Don't Stop Believin'" at an opportune moment in time, and I recognize what a cliche it's become. But the other day Hannah told me that her fifth grade choir is preparing it for their last concert of elementary school, a moment manufactured to make me weep. I might have cried at her performance anyway--I tend to do that--but I know I'll be crying about much more than fifth graders leaving elementary school when I hear it.

Thanks Glee, for all of it. I'll miss you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Who I've Become After Eight Years of Blogging

I started my blog eight years ago today. With a post titled, "It's About Time," I took my first tentative step into writing publicly online. Well, semi-publicly, as I used a pseudonym back in the beginning. That's what all the "cool" bloggers did back then, or at least the ones I thought were cool. The ones I hoped I could be just a tiny bit like some day.

Most of them don't post anymore, and yet I'm still here.

Hannah and me, April 2007
What I didn't say in that first post, when I described myself as a 29yo married mom of a 3yo, living in the Boston suburbs, working full-time and about to finish my MBA, was that I was only a few months separated from the crushing experience of having a miscarriage. I read countless online accounts of miscarriages in those days, and they were harder to find then, but they were there. I needed to know that I'd be okay again, some day, and so I took strength from these women writing and telling their stories. I decided to contribute my own.

I think back to the person I was then, and it seems almost a lifetime away, despite it being less than a decade. I got pregnant a couple months later, and that pregnancy became Max. In 2007, Hannah was a relentless chatterbox who refused to wear anything but dresses. I'd just started with the group I'm still in at work, but had no idea that a career path like the one I've had was even possible. My degree that only had a few months left had taken me four and a half years to complete. Marc and I were in the middle of our kitchen remodel, and now we're about to start working on the rest of the plans we've had since back then.

While I'm still busy, it's a very different busy now than it was eight years ago. Things were so much harder then than they are now. Life with a preschooler and an infant, daycare centers in opposite directions on different schedules (plus the cost of two kids in full-time care), both Marc and I working hard to establish our careers, updating a 90 year old house, having only one truly reliable car. A solid year of back troubles, culminating in surgery. Managing diabetes through all of it, and eventually getting a Type 1 diagnosis. So much of the busy back then was beyond our control. There wasn't time for things like non-profit boards and producing shows and monthly networking groups. Back then, I was lucky to write one blog post a month.

Despite how hard it was, I always tried to see the good in all I was doing, and that's how I evolved to have a "having it all" focus. I was so tired of being told that I couldn't have it all, that I needed to opt out, that all you can hope for is a compromise. I was doing it, I was having it all, and I still believe that I am. I know there is a tremendous amount of privilege in that statement, but I also know that a lot of hard work has gone into it too.

Now? I have a lot more confidence than I did then. My kids are thriving, Marc and I are happy, I'm enjoying my work and find more and more pockets of time to do things I like. I've even been paid for writing things of my own invention and direction. I'm still learning and growing, but always grateful that I have this space to come back to, to help me process it all.

My blog predates my being on Facebook or Twitter. I still don't have ads or work with sponsors. It's just me, writing out into the abyss, hoping someone will read and find some connection in my story. After 480 posts and nearly 200,000 page views, I still can't promise that posts will actually revolve around a theme, or that they'll fit neatly into labels. But I'm glad you've chosen to read along, and hope that at least you've found it worthy of your time.

That's all I wanted then, and it's still all I want now.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

I Left My Voice in Paris

I promise, some day maybe even soon, I will write a blog post that doesn't feature an illness. But today is just not that day. I've spent most of this weekend trying to recover from my own personal pneumonia diagnosis. Apparently I taught my children how to share a little too much.

I really tried to prevent myself from getting sick this time. Actually, the morning of the day we ended up in the hospital with Max, I'd gone to my own doctor, noting that I was getting sick. I just wasn't sick enough then, so I left empty-handed. I survived the hospital stay, but my cough kept escalating, and so I spent a Friday evening in a fancy new urgent care center. The doctor there thought I was past the crux of my cold, or bronchitis, whatever, and gave me a few things to help with just the cough and said I was fine to travel to Paris. So I did.

And I lost my voice after a full day of meetings, somewhere along the Champs-Élysées. At least I left it somewhere pretty?

I had one more meeting the following morning, and could barely say a word. I was lucky to have nothing to declare at Customs on the way home, as I couldn't make any declarations at all. I finally made it back to a doctor and got the antibiotic that cured both of my kids, and seems to now be working its magic on me.

So while the business portion of my trip was successful, the tiny bit of downtime I had in Paris was mostly spent in bed, watching this past season of Downton Abbey. I'm so glad I got to take the trip though, as it means a lot to meet far-flung co-workers and clients face-to-face. But next time, I plan to leave with everything I brought along with me--including my voice.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bright Spots

Lest you go thinking that I am all doom and gloom around here lately, there have been a few positive developments in my life. I look back over the past month and I'm shocked that there was even time for these things, but somehow, they came together.

The most amazing thing that came together is the audition and casting process for LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER Boston 2015. We had four audition dates, which is more than some of the other cities out there, because a lot of Boston people go away during the month of February. Amazingly, we didn't have to cancel a single audition due to snow, and Jessica, Phyllis and I still discussed our casting choices while I was in the hospital with Max (I was grateful for the distraction!). We've announced our cast and I'm really excited to get to know them all better over the coming months. If you're local, I hope you'll consider joining us at the show on May 9!

Following my 2015 word of the year, "choose," I made a major choice that will be playing out later this month: I'm getting LASIK surgery. After having so much trouble with a corneal ulcer last fall, which seems to be related to my long-term contact lens wearing, a doctor commented that I should "just get LASIK." I'd honestly never considered it, since I'd done so well with contacts for so long, and I'm not great about subjecting myself to possible pain. But the ulcers I had were very serious and could cause damage to my vision should they recur, so I scheduled an evaluation for LASIK months ago. I had a couple hours of eye exams to determine if I was a good candidate, and I am, so the surgery is scheduled for later this month. I'm nervous, but everyone I've talked to has great things to say about it, and so I'm trying to focus on what it'll be like to wake up in the middle of the night and read the clock. I haven't been able to do that since maybe 1988? It'll be pretty exciting.

I'm still trying to up my style game, but have to say that most of the shopping I've attempted lately had been really unsuccessful. No matter where I went or searched online, I was leaving empty-handed, and this includes a period of time where some retail therapy would have been really useful. So in a fit of desperation and after months of seeing their targeted Facebook ads, I joined the clothing rental site Gwynnie Bee. This great post over at BlogHer goes into more detail, but here are the basics: you start an online "closet" of clothing that you like from the site, and then for a monthly subscription fee based on the number of items you have sent to you, they send you those clothes to borrow. If it doesn't fit or you don't like it, you can ship it right back in the prepaid packaging they provide. If you like it, you can buy it. I've gotten two items so far, one of which I purchased right away, and the other that I've worn but am still deciding if I want to keep it or not. I'll keep you posted on how it goes, but so far, I'm liking it a lot. New clothes without having to actually go shopping sounds like a dream to me!

And speaking of dreams, I'm going to Paris via London for work soon. It's a super quick trip so I won't have much time to take in the surroundings, but I am counting on temperatures above 50 degrees, no snow on the ground, quiet hotel rooms and long flights to listen to podcasts. I'm très excited.

Things seem to be getting back to normal around here, even if the current definition of normal includes snowbanks as tall as a seven year old. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

February Flop

So February ended up being quite a month.

And yes, I know it's only March 1 now, but I'm still confident that above statement will end up being my understatement of the year.

February and I are no longer friends.

It's not like I was on great terms with January either. Just to recap that last week of that month: I slipped and fell on ice on Monday, we had the first snow days Tuesday and Wednesday, and Hannah was diagnosed with pneumonia and out of school Thursday and Friday. That resulted in me canceling a long-awaited spa day on Sunday, February 1, too, so I guess February wasn't off to the greatest start. And that rolled right into two more snow days.

I vaguely remember spending a few days at work and cramming in the first round of LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER auditions before we were walloped with two more snow days. Two more days at work, which included a doctor's appointment for me followed by a late night video conference, and then another work from home day so I could take the kids to their annual pediatric well visits, which had already been postponed a couple times due to snow.

That was a Friday, the 13th to be exact. The kids were due to spend most of the next week visiting their relatives in Arkansas for February vacation. But in the space of a few days since those well visits, Max developed strep throat, and the kid's trip was canceled (which also meant that a two night hotel staycation for Marc and I was canceled too). I stayed home part of the week, and Marc stayed home the rest. Max didn't really get better though, and he started on another medication.

The kids went back to school that Monday morning, with Max being monitored by the school nurse. His breathing wasn't quite right though, and so that afternoon took the biggest turn of all, as we ended up at the emergency room and eventually, admitted to the hospital for two days and two nights. He had also developed pneumonia and the breathing issues related to that.

My hospital identity
Once we were in the hospital, I have to admit that I was fairly zen about all of it. We were where we needed to be and in good hands. The staff was fabulous and tried to make Max and the rest of us as comfortable as possible. Everything else in our lives could wait, be sent on to co-workers, be rescheduled or simply missed. As a working parent so often held to the parameters of my calendar and so many competing demands, it was actually pleasant to have just one priority: making sure Max got better. We were very lucky that he did, even making it back to school for a shortened day on Friday, as if he'd never been in the hospital at all.

This month was just crazy. Almost nothing went according to plan. I even got a fortune cookie, during lunch after Max's strep diagnosis, that said "Those who fail to plan, plan to fail." I laughed thinking those fortune writers didn't know who they were dealing with; I *always* have a plan. I just don't get to always see them through.

March is going to be so much better, right?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Endings and Anxiety

Tuesday night, I kept falling back into the same dream, despite trying to get myself out of it numerous times. But I'm a light sleeper lately, and I guess I kept picking up where I left off. In the dream, I was at work, but everything had changed. My team had moved, something we're actually slated to do this year, only I didn't move along with them. All of my personal items had been thrown away, and I was left to be part of another team that I had no desire to be on. I protested, but no one could hear me, or maybe they didn't care.

Of course, this dream came after two more snow days spent at home, more than 48 hours without leaving the house, and feeling very anxious about how I'd get into the office that Wednesday morning (which indeed took two hours to accomplish). I told one of my bosses about the dream that afternoon, when he happened to get news that our team's move date had gotten pushed back. He reminded me that my new office is right next to his, and that of course I'm coming along, though I might not have room for my artwork with our new glass walls.

I've been thinking a lot about endings, as they seem everywhere these days. Two of my favorite shows, Parenthood and Glee, have recently ended or will be ending in a matter of weeks. Jon Stewart announced he's leaving The Daily Show, a position he's held for most of my adult life. Even Rosie O'Donnell announced she's leaving The View (again), a show I haven't watched in longer than I can remember, yet I still watched her vlog for why she's leaving too.

I've been at my job for closing in on 10 years now, and I've only ever had to really leave one job before this. Every other job I'd held was known to be temporary from the start, whether I was a camp counselor or working as a bank teller or in the college library. Everything else had a fairly established end date without intervention from me. Leaving my last job was, well, kind of traumatic for me. I'd loved working there, but was basically told that they didn't see me advancing further despite the half-finished MBA, which they were paying for at the time. I was so hurt to have to leave, but I knew I hadn't peaked at the age of 27.

I was fortunate to find my next job relatively easily, a lateral move that was challenging in ways I hadn't anticipated, but it opened up a much broader world to me. My company has invested in me, and I've grown a lot over the last decade. It seems weird to have been there so long when it seems like everyone else I know has switched jobs many times over the same period, but people at my company tend to stay (my group hasn't had someone leave since 2007). Long-term plans have been made with me in mind. I have no intentions of leaving.

But it's interesting to me that despite all that, the goodwill I know is felt for me, and the loyalty I feel towards my job, I'd still be hit with an anxiety dream of being left behind. I don't blame any aspect of my job for this: they encouraged us to stay home as the blizzards hit, and I've always been supported when I work from home. But will I ever feel secure enough in myself, that I am doing well enough, that I won't have worries like this? Or is this just the curse of being an employee for someone else, that you can never truly feel 100% secure? Or maybe it's just all this snow, making me crazy.

I know I'm not at an ending. But I do sometimes wonder what a new beginning might be like.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Kitchen Sink, Part 2

I am the kind of person who sets their alarm to wake up at six in the morning to do the dishes.

You see, I was too tired after this hard week, where I continued to marinate in last week's hard, right up til the end, when I called for surrender in the form of a ride home from the train station. It's not that long of a walk, but with snowbanks higher than my knees and portions where the only choice is to walk in a heavily trafficked street in the complete darkness of early evening, I couldn't do anymore hard.

I couldn't face the dishes after Shabbat dinner either. The kitchen sink is also my thinking place, and I didn't want more thinking. I wanted mindless television and a comfortable bed, which is what I gave myself. But I set my alarm, and unlike most mornings lately, I jumped right out of bed, and I cleaned the kitchen.

The thoughts I'd avoided last night came fast and furious this morning. Today, we start the audition process for a new season of LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER. There is no one word that can adequately capture my emotions as we stand on this precipice, but it reminds me of Peter Pan in the Disney previews that plays on one of the kid's DVDs, when he grabs someone's hand and shouts "Here we gooooo!" into the night sky. It's feels a lot like flying when you're not sure you know how.

I didn't expect to feel this nervous going into year 2, but I'm glad I still feel as excited as I did in year 1. I know more of what to expect today and the days to come. I also know that my heart will hurt hearing many of the stories. I know I will do my best to honor each of the individuals who shares something.

My story, in the video below, still rings so true for me. I don't know if I'll be reading anything this year, but I'm still writing here, even if it's not as grand as that moment was. But I'm still revealing who I am this way, and it means a lot to me. So building on last year's theme, you should know that I am the kind of person who sets their alarm to wake up at six in the morning to do the dishes, if they couldn't bear the thought of them last night, and today looks really busy and the overwhelming sense of responsibility mandates that you get them done even though it's really cold in the kitchen so early in the morning but maybe you'll find twenty minutes to get a blog post written because of it.

And I hope you'll grab onto my hand, because here we go.