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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Blank Space

I'm in need of a little space lately. Unlike TSwift, there is no blank space in my life, or so it seems.

It's week 18 of our renovation, and while I have absolutely nothing to complain about, I'm so ready for it to be over. Thankfully, it almost is. We're close, probably a week or so away with most of it being done. But since Hannah got home from camp, Marc and I have had to share our bedroom with her. During waking hours, Max is almost always in our room too. We have people in the house generally from 7 am to 6 pm, so no one is ever alone even if the kids are away. The house will be put back together soon, but for now, no space.

I'm lacking space at work too; mostly just the mental space to stop thinking about work. I'm still very happy in the role I took on nearly two years ago, but wow does it take up a lot more mental space. I find myself thinking about various aspects of what I'm working on at all hours of the day, including the middle of the night. Not stressed out panicked thoughts, but reasoning through some issue or planning ahead for a meeting. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because I like doing well at work, but an interesting development for me.

When I'm not thinking about work, I'm thinking about the kids and the transition back to school. Middle school for Hannah--a big deal, yes, but I know she'll handle it well. Second grade for Max--fewer adjustments, but still, a new schedule with more religious school and the music lessons he's been wanting for years. The high holidays will be here in a moment, and I haven't really done much school shopping for the kids, and I don't know when I will. This summer almost feels like it didn't happen, like I was in this weird temporary state, holding pattern.

I wish I had more blank space for writing, without feeling like I've said it all already and there's nothing left to say.

In a way, I'm ready to get to fall. I'm ready for a return to structure and routine and to enjoy the new parts of our house. Maybe I'll find some space then.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Getting Over It: Losing a Friend and Finding My Voice Again

I haven't been blogging much lately, and I know it's because there's this lump in my throat that I can't seem to clear. I've been struggling for several months to get over a hurt, a kind of pain that I've only experienced a few times in my life. This pain has caused me to be less forthcoming here, and probably more withdrawn in other aspects of my life too. I've lost some confidence. I've lost a lot of sleep. I've lost a friend.

(Disclaimer: If you know me beyond the Internet, I'm intentionally being vague here. Please don't quiz me about it later. If I wanted to tell you, I would have. And don't be vain, this blog post probably isn't about you. Unless it is.)

I don't think I've lost a friend like this since the loss of some once-close college friends as the years have passed, and our lives twisted in different directions. I know that this ache is similar to the aches I felt for those friends, but in the college years and slightly beyond, I had the time to process and grieve the lost friendship. I don't feel like I've had that luxury this time around, with everything else my life now includes. But I know that I have been grieving anyway, and while I keep hoping I'm over it, I'm not.

The piece I read aloud at this year's Boston LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER is called "The Geology of Motherhood." I'd been intending to submit the piece to a new website called "The Mid," and it was featured there about a month after the show. I'm proud of the piece, but it's not "The Kitchen Sink," the piece I read in 2014. Watching "Geology" back on YouTube now, I see that the piece doesn't read all that well aloud. It was meant to be published, but to be read with eyes, not heard with ears. Or maybe it's my delivery; I watch myself, and I can hear the heartbreak in my voice. I didn't know it was there; I guess I truly couldn't hear myself that day, but I don't sound like me. I don't seem much like myself at all.

Amazing how the loss of a living, breathing person, a friend, not family or a significant other, can do that to you. Rob you of your sense of self. But that's where I was, and it's still this space that I've been floating around.

I'm tired of feeling that way. I want to be over this, to make that hard edge disappear from my voice. I want to trust, and to go back to putting myself out there, unafraid of being hurt. I've let this take up too much space in my mind for far too long. And I really doubt my friend has let this consume her the way that it has me.

I'm reclaiming "The Geology of Motherhood." It is good, and I am good. The way I'm feeling will fade. Eventually, I'll see "the gorgeous sun-soaked view" and not just "the brute forces involved." Hopefully soon.

Here's "The Geology of Motherhood" © 2015 Cheryl Stober, as first published on The Mid.


I can't remember now what made it all so scary. It was just a chapter in my eighth grade science textbook. But for some reason that chapter was the hardest one I'd ever dealt with in my life. I was terrified of plate tectonics.

Now, I wasn't terrified of the actual scientific phenomenon of plate tectonics, those moving panels of earth below the surface, and how they could crash and cause eruptions and change the landscape of our planet at any time. I really was okay with it. We don't have a whole lot of control here, and I get that. So I wasn't scared, I guess, but I remember well that I really, really didn't like it.

Perhaps it's because, even as a 14-year-old, I could already see how these shifting plates would become a metaphor for the rest of my life. A metaphor that I would keep coming back to every time there was a seismic shift in the composition of my own landscape.

What do those shifts look like? Well, when you think about it, they're easy to see. Graduations, college, career, marriage, career changes, moving, children: Those are all giant earthquakes, seismic shifts in one's life.

I remember when my son Max was about to be born, thinking what a huge shift it was going to be going from one child to two. It had been four years since my daughter Hannah arrived, and I was dreading going back to carrying a diaper bag again, to all of that starting over. My precious girl took up almost all of the airtime in our home, and I worried about how in the world I was going to add somebody else to this puzzle. I thought Max would never get a word in, that Hannah would do all of the talking for them both. I never suspected that both of them would simply talk at the same time, usually with the radio or the television playing in the background, sometimes even with my husband also trying to get my attention. There is never going to be a shortage of words in our home.

Somehow I survived that shift from one to two children and adapted to our altered environment. I've survived other shifts along the way too: when we moved from our condo to our home, when we had to renovate the kitchen that was sorely in need of updating. I've weathered job changes and escalating responsibilities and health crises, and the landscape continues to change shape and shift. I've clung to illusions, really delusions, of control, managing the details where I could pack the lunches the night before, update the calendar, pay the bills on time.

While the big tectonic shifts, the ones that cause earthquakes, are all too easy to notice, there is still a constant, imperceptible motion happening. The earth shimmies beneath our feet, but it's harder to notice things are changing when the changes are so subtle. Personally, I'm more likely to take stock, and to feel grateful for what I have, after surviving an earthquake. But if I'm always changing too, do I stop and take time to acknowledge the beauty of it as it's happening? With the landscape always changing, when do I take the time to acknowledge the view?

Lately I've felt that another shift is underfoot, and the earth is trembling in a different way than it ever has before. It's not just a shift regarding my children, although they're shifting too. Hannah's about to start middle school, and Max has conquered the early elementary years. My career is going well; I'm not coasting, but I'm also not aggressively proving myself like I did during a few epic Lean In years. I feel like I've gotten over the toughest hurdles of managing work with young children. And yet I feel shaken, unsettled.

For more than 11 years, I've been a married mother who works full time, and I have felt defined and constrained by the push and pull that society seems to dictate as mandatory these days. That I cannot possibly have it all, that I must compromise, that trying to do it all means I must be failing to please someone in this high­-wire tightrope act. So I've been diligent. I've worked so hard to raise wonderful children, who occasionally have their moments but in general are a true delight. I've worked hard at my job, progressing through the ranks, achieving more than I ever thought possible for myself. I try to keep my home a pleasant place to be, and I work at my marriage, trying to grow alongside the partner I have chosen to build this life with. And yet.

The shift I'm feeling now is that it's not enough. I have an awful lot of "all," but I'm not enjoying it nearly as much as I should. I have been working so hard, and there are moments when I have reached the summit of a peak, this land mass formed by violent collision of the paths I have taken and those paths I have not taken. But often, even at those peak moments, the gorgeous sun­-soaked view I expect is obscured by clouds. All I can see is the hard work, the brute forces involved.

There is still time. I know this, because I know that there are more peaks still ahead of me. Those peaks may come in the form of my children, or my career, or some as-yet-unknown part of myself. And I'm lucky to be realizing this now, because I can work on finding more joy along those newly­ carved trails. I can hope for a glorious moment at the peak, of course, but I can also stop staring at my feet as I stagger forward and, instead, take in the scenery. Life, and especially motherhood, cannot be spent waiting just for those peaks, because the valleys can be just as beautiful. A mother knows that it is not enough to take stock after an earthquake. There is so much beauty to take in, even in the hard work of shifting the landscape.

We cannot control the changing geology. The waves move faster, the result of some deep underwater shifting, and the sands erode. The shift I'm feeling is telling me to slow down. To promise to try not to be scared, to find a hand to hold and, once in a while, a reminder to stop and take in the new views along the way.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sharing Stories of Miscarriage

Two of my blogging friends, actually both participants in my Having It All Project, have recently had miscarriages. It's a topic I've thought a lot about since the BlogHer/She Knows wrap up party after the Boston Listen To Your Mother show, when I was interviewed and asked about why I started blogging. I told a version of the story below, which I also left as a comment on one of my friend's blogs. I thought last weekend at BlogHer that the footage might appear somewhere, and I had only said in the interview that "I'd suffered a loss." I'd been preparing myself to have to explain what loss that was, but the moment never came. Seeing the bravery with which my friends have shared their recent stories, I've decided to share a bit of mine. Here's the comment I'd left for my friend.

---

I lost a pregnancy at 10 weeks back in 2006. I started bleeding on a Friday night, and after a series of hospital and doctor visits, I had a D&C the following Thursday. So much of that week, all of these years later, stands in high relief in my memory.

I had told everyone, including almost 3yo Hannah, that we were expecting. I'm terrible at secrets, and I'd never had a fertility issue, I was only 28, I thought everything would be totally fine. I didn't think I knew anyone who had ever had a miscarriage before. I was so embarrassed to have to tell everyone afterward. At least Hannah seemed to understand it at the time.

I had to take a full week off from work. Since I had to wait to get an appointment for the D&C, I was scared to go to work and lose the baby there. Or on the train. So I stayed home. I told my (not current) boss, and his assistant send a plant. I threw it away. My best friend sent me the first season of "The OC" to pass the time. I never opened the shrink wrap (sorry, J). What I did do was to search the Internet relentlessly for blogs and articles on miscarriage. I needed to know that others were like me. And that somehow, life would go on.

I started my blog a few months later. I haven't ever really written much about my miscarriage, though there are references to it here and there. But I wanted to give something back to the forum that had given so much to me when I was so shattered.

I got pregnant again a month later. Had I not lost that baby, the one that was born would never had been possible. I still wonder about the baby due on 7/7/07. I always will. But the kid born the following New Year's Day is really awesome.

I guess all of this is to say what you already know, which is that you're not alone. It's a club far too many of us become members of along the way. I applaud you for sharing it like this, and you should know that some day, someone might be looking for an article just like this one, and she'll be very glad that it's there.

---

So just in case that someone doesn't find my friend's blog, and stumbles across this one instead, the story is here too.

Monday, July 13, 2015

5 Things I'm Looking Forward to After Our Renovation

The new, unpainted back of my house. Note the old red paint on the right.

About six weeks ago, at the start of June, I told you all that we were six weeks into renovating our house. So that means we're now 12 weeks in, and my husband Marc wrote a post on *his* blog about some of the details that I didn't share in mine. Like who we used for an architect, how we've made decisions so far, and a rough estimate of how much this all costs.

Go ahead. Click over. I'll wait.

Twelve weeks in means we're at a stage where daily progress is harder to see, or at least less interesting to take a picture of, I guess. There are new pipes and valves. Windows are in, but they mostly look like regular windows. Boxes for light switches and outlets are waiting for the finished light switches and outlets.

Twelve weeks in also means I can't find any scissors. Anywhere. I know we should have multiple pairs, and I guess there's the kitchen shears meant for cooking if I'm really desperate. But I'd rather go with things left uncut.

So despite steady daily progress and what seems to be the hardest working building crew I've ever encountered, we're still not done and I'm kinda ready to be done. As Marc mentioned, we've really been looking forward to making many of these changes for NINE YEARS. That's a lot of waiting. So to get me through these last few weeks of waiting, here's a list of what will be super awesome about our new home.

1. The window seat. It's silly, but going back to when I would read angsty-middle-school-girl books and the characters always sat somewhere cozy reading their own angsty-middle-school-girl books, I've longed for a window seat, with lots of colorful, comfy pillows collected from all over. Hannah and Max are already calling the new living room space the Reading Room, and I seriously can't wait for a rainy Saturday afternoon where we all grab a spot and read a book. (Please do not ruin this dream for me by stating how unlikely it actually is to happen that way!)

Getting closer to my window seat.
2. First floor washer and dryer. Our basement is basically a hole dug under a house. Well, okay, it has a cement floor, but that's the only amenity one could try to claim. For nine years, I've owned the same yucky pair of Crocs for going down to the basement to do laundry. For the past five years, since my back surgery, I've feared carrying laundry up and down the narrow basement stairs. No freaking more. I might burn the Crocs.

3. First floor bathroom. I think I can just say "no more close calls" and leave it at that.

Our front hall closet will soon be a bathroom.

4. A walk-in closet. Honestly, it's never really been something I dreamed about having. We had a decent one in our condo, and when we moved to the house without one, I wasn't crushed. But now I'm really, really looking forward to having a place big enough for all of my clothes such that I won't have to swap items out each season. Bonus: lots of space to store all my extra diabetes supplies.

5. A real space for me to call my own. I'll be getting some kind of desk/vanity area in our master bedroom, and when it becomes a reality, I think I'll probably cry. Other than my half of the bed, which is where I'm writing this blog post, where I blow dry my hair and do my make up each morning, and where I spend an inordinate amount of my time in this house, I've never really had much room dedicated to me.

A corner all my own. Eventually.
And there really is so much more. Hannah's new room and improvements to Max's room. New heat (no more radiators!) and central air conditioning. Being able to walk the first floor of the house in a giant circle. Better access to our back door. Finally bothering to decorate our master bedroom. Fun new lighting.

I'm so grateful to be able to do this Big Build, and grateful to have Marc as a partner helping me to figure all of it out. We've had a great first nine years in this house, and I'm ready for many, many more.

Imagine all of that wood becoming a closet, bathroom and master bedroom.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Seeking Inspiration at #BlogHer15

In just under two weeks, I'll be in New York City, attending my fourth blogging conference and third BlogHer. My train ticket is bought, new business cards are on their way, and I think I'll come up with some version of an outfit plan in the next few days (what to wear is a big deal with this group). I know I'll be attending the Voices of the Year reception, the highlight of the conference for me, and I'll be stopping by the Listen To Your Mother open mic afterward. I'm even a bit excited for the closing party with Boyz II Men.

But I'm absolutely aimless when it comes to the rest of the agenda.

Don't get me wrong; I'm sure there are many things I could learn to improve my blog, but I'm not totally sure this old dog wants to learn any new tricks. I don't monetize, I'm not trying to win at Instagram, I doubt I'll be the one to come up with some bit of hashtag activism. If I haven't found my online voice after eight years of writing here, it's unlikely to come to me while attending a session. So why go?

I go for the inspiration. Each conference I've attended has brought something new and dynamic into my life. At Springboard in 2012, I conceived and developed The Having It All Project, a series of 50 interviews that took me through all of 2013. At BlogHer13 in Chicago, I got the courage to apply to bring Listen To Your Mother to Boston. 2014's BlogHer in San Jose led me to pitch my writing to BlogHer itself and a couple of paid opportunities there, plus it solidified a tribe of like-minded writers and friends.

I know I need a new project. These last few months I've felt aimless, despite everything keeping me busy with work, the kids and the house renovation. I know I need something new, but I haven't figured out what it is just yet. So maybe I'll find it in the halls of midtown Hilton. Maybe in a conversation with someone new. Maybe in a quiet moment where I have the time and space away from work, the kids and the house. Maybe in the throng of one of the biggest, most diverse communities where I've come to feel at home.

So bring it, BlogHer15. I'm ready.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Half Life

Copley Square, one recent morning.
Today, exactly half my life ago, according to Microsoft Excel's day count function, I moved in to my freshman year dorm room in the suburbs of Boston. So now I've officially lived in Boston for longer than I lived in Cleveland.

I remember being in the car with my Mom when she observed that it was some anniversary she held with my Dad, and her remark that she had known my Dad for longer than she hadn't. At the time, I couldn't really imagine having an anniversary like that of my own. But I did realize this "half of my life" one was getting close a couple of years ago, and I've been waiting for it since then.

I remember my carefully selected outfit for my first day of college. It included a "Planet Hollywood" shirt that no one would be caught dead wearing today. Back then, I said "pop" instead of "soda," "freeway" instead of "highway," I mispronounced the names of most of the local towns and I never said "wicked." I don't say wicked often now either, but I think I have a bit more authenticity when I do, especially more than I did when coming home for winter vacation that first year.

I've always hated when people ask me if I'm rooting for the Cleveland Indians or the Boston Red Sox (the answer is likely neither, unless it affects my commute). Tourists always seem to seek me out at the train station for directions, ending their ask with "you're not from here, are you?" as though someone from Boston would never have been as helpful. But when my town was hurt, there was no doubt where my allegiances resided.

It's not a huge accomplishment, just living somewhere for a long time. As an adult though, we don't get to hit too many milestones anymore. So here's to half my life, Boston. I'm still happy to be here.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Blessing for Sara


I've been in San Francisco this weekend, by myself. Hannah is now at overnight camp for the next seven weeks (more on that in a future post, I'm sure). Max spent a few days in CT with my in-laws, and Marc later joined them there. 

I'm here, along with my parents, to meet Sara, my brother and sister-in-law's first child. Today we are all taking part in a blessing ceremony for her, and Allison and Ryan have asked me to be Sara's godmother. I've never had that role before, and I've been thinking a lot about what I would most wish for Sara at this auspicious moment. 

There are many old jokes along a similar refrain: two Jewish people, three opinions. But behind the joke is a serious thought: we are encouraged, at all levels and at every age, to question, question hard, the world around us and what we are supposed to believe. Nothing should be taken at face value. We are instructed to learn, to research, to develop our own beliefs and opinions and find the things that bring meaning to our lives. And then once we have found those things and our purpose, we should use our voices to tell stories and to bring about change, to improve our world. 

So my blessing for Sara, my prayer is that she will grow and learn and share her voice and who she is with the world. I may be 3,000 miles away most days, but I hope that some day she'll be loud enough for me to hear her, wherever she is. 

In the meantime, Sara, just work on the growing piece. And maybe sleep through the night once in a while. 

My first selfie with Sara. The first is always the best, right?

Oh, no! Don't yawn now! It's picture time. 

Well, you might not like it much in this moment, but know that I love you.