Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Remember the Facebook Meme 25 Things?

In honor of the 20 Things I'm posting over on Boston.com Moms today, I thought back to the Facebook meme that was popular back in 2009. With some slight changes, I posted (most of) the below on January 28, 2009, and have added in some current reflections on how well it all holds up. I highly recommend this exercise!

1. My brother Ryan is one of my best friends. I'm incredibly proud of the person he has become and all that he has accomplished, and he's helped my life in many Google-influenced ways.

2. As a kid, I was obsessed with Cabbage Patch Kids. I vividly remember receiving my first and last ones, and the time I got my first set of straight A's and picked out Cabbage Patch Twins.

3. Goldman Union Camp Institute, GUCI, was my home for 5 summers. I loved that place and would go back tomorrow if I could. It had a huge impact on my Jewish identity, and I hope my kids will go to Jewish overnight camp some day. (Hannah went last summer!)

4. My favorite year, despite Algebra, was 8th grade. I had so much fun hanging out with Jen, Marc and Robbie in Mr. Guiliani's choir room during lunch each day.

5. I can be intensely claustrophobic, especially in caves. I discovered that fear during a trip to Israel with my family in 1994, as we tried to make our way through some tunnels dug by the Crusaders. So not for me!

6. One of my biggest regrets, though I had no control over it, was that I never made it into the SHS Show Choir. However, I don't regret my decision not to even try out for it senior year.

7. Part of the reason I don't regret that is that I was N'siah of Chaia BBG #220 (president of my youth group chapter). I still remember the first meeting I led, and how nervous I was.

8. My freshman year dorm room at Brandeis University had a ton of overnight guests (no, not that kind!), such that it was dubbed "Motel 317." I miss being with the various iterations of "The Management" - Carol, Julie, Mike, Aviva, Julia - everyday.

9. Sophomore year I lived in a castle on campus. I was a proud Jewish American Princess.

10. I also became "the email girl" that year as I instituted Brandeis Hillel's first email list for upcoming events. It was sent from my personal account then - how quaint it seems now.

11. I believe it is crucial that people work in a customer service capacity at some point in their lives. I spent a summer in college as a bank teller, and learned a tremendous amount - especially about check kiting.

12. I also regret not studying abroad my junior year. I always thought there would be time later, but I've still never been anywhere in Europe. I think it's a part of my development that is really lacking now. (At least I've now had Paris!)

13. I met my future husband, Marc, via AOL Instant Messenger in the fall of my senior year of college. My screenname was LilMisBusy, and I still use that for my blog. I knew I'd marry him on our second date, when he said he liked the name "Hannah" as we watched the movie "Playing By Heart." This year is the 10th we've spent together. (Plus 4)

14. I got my MBA from Boston University for free, as my two employers paid for it as a benefit. Ah, how I miss the boom times. I still have undergraduate loans to pay off though. (Still true)

15. I got pregnant with Hannah after my first semester at BU, and was pregnant with Max when I ended the program four and a half years later. It took a long time to do, but I'm glad I did it.

16. The best class I took during my MBA program was on decision-making and the biases we employ when making decisions. All the time now, I stop and think about how biased I can be - and yet I usually don't change anything.

17. I had a miscarriage in December 2007. It was a very isolating and traumatic experience, and I wish people talked more about miscarriage so that you don't feel so alone when you're going through it. And I've wanted to put that in writing somewhere for a long time now.

18. A few weeks later the job posting went up for the job I have now. I wouldn't have gone for it if I was pregnant, so I think it was a blessing in disguise. My title is Vice President, Bank Loan Product Associate (I checked my business card for that!). I could tell you what I do, but it really changes everyday. We tell Hannah that I keep track of people's money. It's somewhat accurate. (Well, at least they call me "analyst" now.)

19. I have apple martini green counter tops in my kitchen. When we bought our house, the kitchen was a total disaster, so we demolished it and had it completely redone. I am proud that I picked out most of the items we used, and love that Marc designed such a perfect space for us.

20. I read a ton of blogs, particularly parenting blogs. Google Reader is my friend. I wish I had more time to spend on my own blog, lilmisbusy.blogspot.com. (It's feeling very time capsule-y in here! And wah! Goodbye, Google Reader.)

21. I believe in retail therapy. One of the hardest adjustments after becoming a parent was that I couldn't cure a bad day by shopping for myself after work. I wish I could shop way, way more than I actually do. (I still struggle with that idea!)

22. I'm insecure about my age (though I don't mind admitting it - 31). I'm a young mom, and young to be so far in my career too. I'm also very bad at guessing how old other people are. (All still true, four years later I'm still always feeling too young.)

23. I'm addicted to Gossip Girl and The Real Housewives of Orange County. So different, and yet so much the same. (Still true, with tweet to prove it.)

24. I could eat chicken fingers alone for the rest of my life. (YEP.)

25. I like to look forward to things. If I don't have a big event coming up on my calendar, I get depressed. So some of you - and you know who you are - get engaged, get married, have babies, invite me to something. I'm getting impatient over here! (So what are you waiting for?)

Monday, April 29, 2013

I'm the Boston.com Moms #FeaturedParentBlogger of the Week!

Hi new friends and visitors!

I'm guessing you just found me through Boston.com? I'm so excited to have you here, and hope you'll stick around my site for a while.

So you're just getting to know me, right? Well, first I'd suggest you go through some of the archives below. I've got lots of posts on my favorite topic, "having it all," but hopefully there are others you'll find interesting too. Like some of my favorite vacations, my annual birthday letters to my kids, ongoing struggles with health and exercise, Judaism, Boston and a bit of pop culture fun too. (Yea, that's another 11 posts for you to sink a good chunk of time into exploring.)

I'm excited to spend the week with you all!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

General Busy-ness: April 2013

It's been another busy month around here. When I last left you, we were preparing for Passover, and it was lovely. We attended the usual seder in Hartford and then hosted friends for the second night at our house. It was the first time we'd done that, and considering that we had three five year olds in attendance, it went really, really well!

Our Seder plate - with a broken hard boiled egg and a paper shank bone. 
Some room for improvement.

I attended two book events this past month, which is unusual for me since I don't read actual books all that often. The first was the launch party for "Minimalist Parenting," co-written by the founder of Boston Mamas, which I've been reading for years. I'm about half way through the book now, and my favorite tip so far is to bring a paper bag with you for recycling purposes when you're de-cluttering a space. I've always had a donate bag and a trash bag, and then a lumbering pile of recycling to bring down to the bin, and don't know why I'd never thought of that sooner! (I also finally got to hang out with my friend Michelle and meet my new in-real-life friend Liz, which was so wonderful.)

Christine Koh holding up "flat" Asha Dornfest at the Minimalist Parenting book launch.

Then the following week I went to see Sheryl Sandberg repeat the same stories I'd seen/read elsewhere, but this time in person. And she truly is impressive in person, despite my still mixed feelings on the book itself. But the book has inspired a group of local moms to start meeting and sharing strategies for balancing work and life, and I'm excited to be a part of that.

I'm leaning, I'm leaning!

We attended our annual Yom Hashoah commemoration at Temple Emanuel, and this year I was far less involved than in years past. We featured the music of a composer who died in Terezin, and it was truly shocking to hear the music's abrupt end in the middle of a movement because the composer had not had time to finish his work before his death. I had hoped to write a blog post around that time on the whole Justin Bieber/Anne Frank controversy, but never got around to it, so I'll say just this: had Anne Frank been a 14 year old girl living in 2013? It's likely she could have been a fan of his music. Maybe it was narcissistic for Bieber to suggest it, but the bigger tragedy here is that 14 year old girls should have only had to worry over whose music they enjoyed, and not the horrors that Anne Frank and so many others experienced. If Bieber brought a bit more awareness to a new generation of what Frank went through, then I'll take his comments in the likely more generous spirit he intended them.

Hannah lighting a candle at the Yom Hashoah Commemoration.

And speaking of generous spirits, check out this post from Honest Mom about the group of bloggers I went to dinner with about two weeks ago. An amazing, inspiring group - next time, we'll get a picture.

Then this happened. I really thought that would be the worst of it, and could never conceive then of what was to transpire over Thursday and Friday of that week. Living in Newton, one of the neighboring towns of Watertown (the police staging area was our Target parking lot), we were asked to "shelter in place" throughout the ordeal. Marc wrote a thoughtful piece on it, and we were all very relieved when it ended successfully. It was like a snow day without the snow, except also a gorgeous 73 degree day we could only experience through an opened upstairs window. A surreal experience for sure.

Following that, we've had such a normal, normal week. Marc and I had a long-planned overnight in Boston that Saturday, to see "Book of Mormon" - which neither of us enjoyed - and I think our nerves were still a little frayed by the week's experiences. But on Monday we all went back to work and school, to the usual making plans and even a return to my Tuesday 6 am Zumba class. Now I'm looking ahead to May and better weather and hopefully, even better days.

In light of last week's events, I hope you'll join me in making a donation to The One Fund. Stay strong, Boston.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Having It All Project: Naomi Greenfield

I had the privilege of meeting Naomi when I was helping to plan the Temple Emanuel BBQ years ago and we hired her balloon company. You guys, she is simply awesome at this. And then we watched her documentary and learned all about the fascinating lives she profiled there. Now, we catch up annually at Temple Emanuel's Yom Hashoah commemoration. Here's how Naomi is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I am the proud mom of happy, fun, ridiculously cute, curly-haired 2.5-year-old Sylvia. I live in a condo on the top floor of an historic house in Arlington, MA with Sylvia and my smart, funny and very calm husband Matt.  I work Monday-Thursday as a Creative Strategist at a multimedia and animation studio in Boston called FableVision Studios.  I met my husband at work and he works about six feet away from me every day!  My Fridays are special days where I try to work very little, relax as much as possible, and mostly play with Sylvia. 

I have a business, Red Balloon Company, that I run on the side making balloon animals and doing balloon sculpture and workshops at parties and events.  Ten years ago, one of my best friends and I made a documentary about balloon twisters, TWISTED: A Balloonamentary.  Aside from being a mom, working on that film was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.  The film has screened in 15 film festivals, in 10 theaters across the country and is available on DVD.  I will always consider myself a filmmaker, but right now am much more focused on my job at FableVision, my balloon twisting work, and my life as a mom.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
I keep my "Home" calendar separate from my "Work" calendar so I can be organized and prepared for all the things we have scheduled as a family--appointments, trips, birthdays, parties, classes, etc.  I also always look at the month-view on our calendar to get a broad sense of what we have coming up and to make sure our lives aren't too packed.  I like to be busy and with an active toddler it's good to have activities planned, but I also know that we, as a family, need good solid downtime in addition to activities.  I'm also careful not to stress myself out by putting too many "to dos" in one day.  

Also, napping--not just for Sylvia, but for me and Matt!  When Sylvia was born, people always said to me "Sleep when the baby sleeps!" I found that almost impossible to do when Sylvia was an infant, but now that her nap times are more predictable, Matt and I always try to lie down and sleep a little on the weekends when Sylvia is sleeping.  It's amazing how much better I am as a mom, a wife and a human being when I am well rested.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
Thankfully, I don't have many times where I felt like everything broke down, aside from that time of immediate chaos right when Sylvia was born and we became new parents.  When Sylvia was about 15 months old, though, Matt had an emergency appendectomy that definitely threw us for a loop.  That night, I had to drive him to the emergency room and leave Sylvia sleeping in our apartment with one of the neighbors watching the baby monitor.  Luckily, my parents live 25 minutes away and came to our house to stay with Sylvia right away.  The week or two after his surgery was also hard because he didn't have much energy and couldn't pick up Sylvia, so the nice parenting balance we had established was disrupted.  It was extra stressful for me taking care of both Matt and Sylvia; Matt was frustrated that he couldn't play with her more, and Sylvia was sad that he couldn't pick her up. Thankfully, that ordeal didn't last long.  It did remind me (and does to this day) just how incredibly fortunate we are to be healthy.

I'm due with our second child in July, so if you come back to me after that, I'm sure I will have many more examples of things breaking down! But I'm hoping we'll figure it out eventually just like we did when Sylvia was born.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
I'm actually pretty happy with the balance of work and family in my life.  I owe that mostly to my 4-day-a-week schedule, which is definitely a financial sacrifice and, at times, a challenge with my FableVision workload increasing.  But having that Friday for myself and to be with Sylvia is a regular reminder that my job is not everything in my life and that I am committed to spending time with my family.  Having Fridays off also makes me feel better about the one or two times per weekend when I leave Matt and Sylvia and work a balloon gig or event.  I feel very fortunate to work at a company that is family-friendly and that has a nice handful of working parents.  It's helpful to see how they all balance work and family life, always working hard when they're at the office, but taking time off to coach soccer practice, chaperone field trips and attend school events.  FableVision also has a generous personal/sick day policy that really reduces the stress that can be caused by having to take unexpected personal/sick time for when your kid is sick.  

I also feel very lucky that Sylvia has a nice balance in her life between time in school, time with me and time with her grandparents.  She has several out-of-town grandparents who we see about once a month and my parents take care of her one day a week.  I feel so happy that together with my parents, we were able to coordinate that one-day-a-week with Sylvia.  It's a very special experience for both of them and one that affords me great balance in my own life, for which I am extremely grateful.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
Well, when I was 18, I think probably my biggest concern was that I didn't have a boyfriend; I'm not worried about that anymore. I think with each new change and adjustment in life--marriage, jobs, homeownership, children--there are new concerns and worries.  Right now, I am so happy and thankful to have my health, to have my family and to have a great job that I find challenging, rewarding and creatively fulfilling.  I wish I could tell 18-year-old me how great everything worked out!

Relate to what Naomi is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at havingitallproject@gmail.com!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Two New Mantras

I've been hearing two phrases all over the place lately, and yet, I started the draft of this post weeks ago and I'm only getting around to working on it again now. Which is exactly why I need these two new mantras in my life.

The first: "Done is better than perfect." If you're like me, you might need to slow down and read that again, because I *really* want to read it as "perfect is better than done." Clearly, that makes no sense, but my perfectionist tendencies scream back at me "Yes! Perfect is by definition the thing to be!"

But I know it can't be that way. Over the last few months, I've felt even busier and more pressed for time than usual. And with a blog called "Busy Since Birth" you already knew I was busy, but it's been worse. There have been so many days that passed by in a blur of motion, going from next to next to next, that at times I'm sure I've done things without even being aware of doing them. A huge part of me thrives on being that kind of superwoman - but I've also noticed that when I finally allow myself to be "done," I really am "done." Like put myself to bed at 8:30 on a Friday night done.

So I'm struggling a bit with that. I want to do all of these things, be they time with Marc and the kids, work, work on myself, seeing friends, reading way too many articles on having it all. But I am trying to tell myself that I can only do all of these things if I don't maintain all of these standards and ideals. That it's okay if the laundry or the dishes wait a bit longer than usual. That it's okay if I don't read the boring article through to completion. That it's okay I yawn my way through Zumba. And that it's okay to go to bed at 8:30 on a Friday night if that's what my body is telling me to do. My friend Nanette recently told me that tasks take as long as the time you have set aside to do them, and I've been working to say to myself "I have 20 minutes to do X, and whatever is done is done." And it's been really helpful.

Now the other thing I keep hearing is: "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" That's a big one, right? Answering it could mean nothing - you don't necessarily have to act on those thoughts and ideas. Just giving myself permission to think in terms like that seems bold. I have a lot of thoughts percolating behind that idea that I'm not quite ready to share yet...but I am thinking, and remembering that question as I move forward with life.

These two new mantras tend to support each other. If I'm going to find the time to move forward with the big, scary things I'm thinking of, I'm going to have to find ways to let go a bit on some the other parts. So I'm writing this post as a bit of a reminder to myself as another jam-packed day comes to a close.

Done is better than perfect. What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Having It All Project: Danielle Van Ess

Danielle is another connection I've found via Twitter as we discuss my favorite issues on work-life balance and the true lack thereof. But somehow, she makes a thriving law practice work while also being a mother of three, and blogging about it too (and the links below are articles I'd already read too - like minds!). Here's how Danielle is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I am a full time mom and a full time lawyer with a busy little law firm I started a few years back and situated conveniently right in the family home I share with my husband, our three daughters (ages 3, 6, 8, and their little sister on the way), and a few pets.
I think it’s having a law office in our home that makes our lives a little less common.  After the birth of my first child I quickly realized that full time work outside the home in my nonprofit legal career wouldn’t have covered the cost of childcare for my newborn. It took me 4 years of soul-searching and floundering a bit, while working part time from home for former colleagues, to figure out how to fulfill both my career ambitions, be the type of mother I wanted to be, and figure out how to be able to afford to do both. There was a lot of risk involved but the reward is mostly very sweet.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
I am obsessed with organization in every area of my life, personal and professional.  I’m certain it is the only thing that keeps me sane.  Like so many other modern busy moms of a few kids, I rely on technology, specifically syncing all the carefully-color-coded calendars with multiple reminders, to help keep track of all our schedules and appointments.

I was very late to discovering yoga about a year ago (after about 15 years’ worth of friends telling me that I of all people really should at least try it). I have not been consistent with my practice the way I aspire to be, but when I do attend to my yoga practice I feel calmer, more at peace, more patient, more in touch with my own body and mind, and physically healthier. Yoga should absolutely be covered as preventative medicine!

I also highly recommend chocolate and peanut butter to help power through some of the more grueling work projects, combined with coffee when energy is fading.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
How to choose just one moment!?!  There has to be at least one of those per day!  Image this scene for a little taste of a moment when it all broke down and what I did to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

It’s about 8:30 am on a weekday. I’m fully dressed for work in a suit, in preparation for a 9:30 am meeting with new clients, packing my three daughters’ lunchboxes, serving and cleaning up breakfast, and inquiring about homework in backpacks, etc. I tell the big girls to get their coats and shoes on and I head into my office, adjacent to our kitchen, to make sure the desk is cleared off and everything is ready for when I get back from dropping them all off at their three different schools. Shuffling papers around and setting up, I somehow missed the then five-year-old giving her then two-year-old sister a breakfast snack bar. The little one walked all around the kitchen, then into the hallway, into the entry office, bathroom, and finally my office leaving a trail of crumbs it would seem impossible for one little snack bar to make! 

So now I’m on my knees cleaning it all up off the floor, watching the clock, starting to panic about everyone being late to school and getting back late for my new client meeting. I’m mentally beating myself up for our chronic tardiness, starting to bark at the girls, and then spiraling into full mommy tantrum mode, circling back to more mental self-abuse.  I get the little one’s coat and shoes on, get everyone strapped into booster and car seats, and as I’m driving them to school apologizing for my tantrum, whining about how hard this is and expressing doubts about whether I can do it anymore, clearly setting a fabulous example leading to a final piling on of mental self-abuse, before kissing them all goodbye and telling them to have a great day and I’d see them at pickup in a few hours.

I make it back in the nick of time, manage to pull it together for a two hour meeting with a lovely couple who have three boys the exact same ages as my girls.  After the meeting, I decided that for the sake of my sanity and in the best interests of my family and our clients, 10am would be the new earliest available appointment time.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
Balance?  I’ll let you know when I achieve it outside the yoga studio.  As for role models, ideally, I would combine the best of all my friends and family into one superwoman. I would borrow what I envy from all my differently-situated friends, using the falsely limiting yet lazily convenient labels we apply to describe their basic situations: the “full time stay-at-home moms,” “full time work-outside-the-home moms,” “career women” who do not (yet) have children, and the dads who are navigating these same waters their own ways.

But myopically viewing the best of everyone’s situations without accepting the less than glamorous aspects and tradeoffs everyone makes is what gets us into trouble. Despite (or perhaps because of) my thoroughly ‘80s upbringing, since my first child was born in 2004 I’ve been disillusioned to learn that the mythical superwoman is just that, totally unrealistic.  Trying to be her is not only an unattainable goal but also a really unhealthy starting point.  I think the more we all tell it like it really is and pat each other, all of us, on the back for our own efforts and contributions, the happier we’d all be.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
This question actually makes me laugh.  I’m pretty sure that back then I still maintained this (in retrospect) totally ridiculous, romanticized vision of myself as a super-stylish, well-rested, city-dwelling, very successful attorney-mama with a happy little baby on one hip (no spit-up anywhere on my clothes) and a briefcase in the other hand (that had inside plane tickets and an itinerary for a fabulous, exotic vacation with my equal-parenting near perfect partner). 

And then there’s reality! I’m a minivan-driving, suburban-dwelling, mother of three (soon four), working my tail off to continue to build, grow, and nurture™ my business, and crashing at the end of every day with my equally tired husband. Sadly, the last true vacation we had (read: without children for more than a one night getaway) was on our honeymoon, over ten years ago. If only I could spin in circles like Wonder Woman to go instantly from makeup-less fleecy lounge pants at school drop-off to dark-circles-covered polished professional, instead of “wasting” the precious time it really takes to accomplish that total transformation. 

I recognize and appreciate how very privileged we are to have all that we do, especially this of all weeks. I do my best to teach my children to recognize how lucky we all are too and to be empathetic and eager to help others whenever they can. Even on our hardest days, I wouldn’t change any of it. I never get the best of all worlds on any one given day, but I do get the best of all them some days and for me, that’s the kind of “balance” I guess I need.

Relate to what Danielle is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at havingitallproject@gmail.com!

Monday, April 15, 2013

My Town

I've lived in the Boston area for almost half of my life now. There is something about this city that I can't quite explain, and it's probably something that others feel about the places they live too, that it becomes a part of who they are.

I fell in love with Boston on a high school trip to the area, sitting in traffic and staring at the Custom House clock. I was immensely proud of my first apartment in the city limits. And so proud to have my children in this city. Obviously, none of that changed today.

Like 9/11/01, I found out the news over an email, this time an MBTA alert. Just last night and earlier today, I'd told people how I loved taking the T on marathon day - congratulating random runners, asking people where they're from, the skipping of Copley Station knowing what was happening above. My office is further away from the finish line now, but at my last job we were right there, and we'd go out and join the crowds. I could never see well enough - would curse myself for being short - but the electricity in the air is like nothing I've experienced elsewhere. For someone who doesn't care about sports, that it was a sporting event almost didn't matter. It was so inspirational, especially all the runners who do it to raise money for charity. Hannah's teacher ran today, and a few of my coworkers as well.

After I saw that the T was down, it took just a minute or two on Twitter to get the gist and know I wasn't going to be able to take the T home for hours, if at all. My first thought was the kids - a striking contrast for me to 9/11. For everything else that seemed the same - the bright blue sky, the stranded feeling, cell phones not working - I didn't have kids then. I knew mine were safe, but still wanted to get home. I left the office quickly and joined a huge crowd trying to get a taxi at South Station. We were all asking where people were headed, and I found a BC student also trying to get to Newton. She had a broken leg in a cast, and was hobbling on crutches. A cab approached and others rushed it first, but he wasn't willing to go where they needed. He saw the college student on crutches and waved us over. I was very grateful for that. We got on the Mass Pike, and many, many emergency vehicles whizzed past on their way into the city. The cab driver took me as far as he could up Centre Street, dropping me off about six blocks from the marathon route. I passed a cluster of runners waiting for transportation, all of whom seemed to be doing well enough. And then, with the permission of the police still stationed there, I crossed Commonwealth Avenue, the marathon route itself. It was truly surreal to be able to walk across that street today. I walked the rest of the way home.

I'm heartbroken for all of those affected today. I'm offended that someone did this to my town, to my home. I wish I had something more to do at this point other than reel. So I'm putting this bit of love for Boston out into the atmosphere. Wishing all of us more peace.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Having It All Project: Al Norton

Al and I are both the spouses of someone who attended Newington High School and subsequently moved to Boston. Got that? His wife Tina and my husband Marc became friends in middle school, and last December we organized a brunch to have some of their local-to-Boston classmates and their families get together. Al and I became facebook friends there after, and I could tell he was a very involved Dad. I'm honored that he chose to share all of this with us. Here's how Al is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
Let's see...I am Greater Boston born and raised, working  full time in real estate - I run the rental department for a mid-sized company with two offices - and writing Two Tivos To Paradise (facebook page), a popular TV blog. I have been married for the last 10+ years, and, oh yes, I am the Father of 4 and a half year old twins. The female half of those twins - my daughter, Genevieve - was born with a heart problem that has led to two surgeries (so far), with a third likely in the not-so-distant future. My Dad, who lives close by, is a 100% disabled Vietnam veteran who sufferers from PTSD. Sure, all those things are somewhat interesting (feel like I am giving a sitcom pitch) but to be perfectly honest, what I think makes my life unique is that I am a Dad who does 50% of the parenting. 

Don't get me wrong - I am not saying I do more than that and/or that my wife doesn't do every bit her fair share - just that from most of what I hear and say out there in the world, Dad's do a lot less than that, and it makes me sad; sad for them in that they don't get as much time with their kids/influence on their burgeoning personalities, sad that they make their other halves do so much more work than they do, sad for their kids that they don't get to know their Dads as much as they could, and sad for men in general in that it reinforces the stereotype and makes it harder for that cycle to be broken.  

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
Coffee. Ok, more? Coffee, music, and the Red Sox. I am all about routine and the Dunkin' Donuts extra large coffee I have at my desk in the office every morning to start my day grounds me, reminds me that no matter how crazy the previous night was or how stressful a day it looks like its going to be, in reality it will be over within 24 hours and I'll be back at my desk sipping the caffeinated nectar of the Gods. 

The drive to work and then the drive from work to pick up the kids at daycare are pretty much the only parts of my day I get to myself and I don't let them go to waste. I rarely talk on the phone in that 5.2 mile each way stretch, instead listening to the music of my choice at sometimes startling volume levels. If I am really baring my soul here I'll admit that most of the time its a Glee CD that's playing as I get the emotion that goes with the songs (because I watch the show and know the context in which they were sung) as well as the fun of the music itself. Also in the current rotation are Will Dailey, Mumford and Sons, and Johnny Cash (there is ALWAYS Johnny Cash in the rotation).  

The Red Sox are pretty self explanatory  I am Boston born and raised so I have Fenway running through my veins. Actually, when we knew we were having twins but didn't know the gender yet we picked out names for all the combinations and if we had had two boys, one of their middle names would have been Fenway. We took the twins to the Futures at Fenway game last year and I am not engaging in any sort of hyperbole when I say that it was one of the highlights of my life.

Essentially I am saying you have to have your vents, the things you do for JUST YOU, so that who you are isn't lost in all you have to do.

Also, to be 100% honest, I cry a lot. A LOT. I have always been a crier and having kids has made it even worse. And the tears come not when I am in the throws of a particularly stressful moment, they come when I am watching Parenthood or listening to a Glen Campbell CD. Hell, this week I cried watching Andy Dick dance on Dancing with the Stars...Hey, don't mock  - you had to be there!! 

To be fair, I also lean on my wife for support, using her as a sounding board to tell me when I am justified in my frustration or when I just need to get over it. Having someone who can play that role in your life is invaluable. Having the person who plays that role in your life have a smile that rivals the Northern Lights is an added bonus. 

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
I've been complaining a lot on Facebook lately about how everyone at work seems to need me between 4 and 6, which is when I've picked up the kids and have them at home with me while also trying to make dinner. A couple of weeks ago I was at absolute wits end, with my phone ringing off the hook and me yelling at it (before I answered), "don't you people understand I have a family and a life?!?!", and took a breather from everything in the kitchen, thinking a few minutes cleaning up was just the zen I needed. My phone rang again and I slammed it into the counter, knocking over the twins glasses and creating a HUGE mess. I flat out lost it until I realized I was literally crying over spilled milk, which is just the sort of realization I needed to avoid throwing a full on pity party of one. I cleaned up, took a few huge breaths, and then went back into the dining room and did silly voices to make the twins laugh. 

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
My wife Tina does an amazing job at balancing an incredibly demanding job and remembering all the stuff the kids need at the same time, so while we have different styles, I look to her as the inspiration to know it can be done. My Dad did an amazing job raising my brother and I and so despite the fact that he did so while high as a kite (on both legally prescribed as well as fully recreational drugs), I am still in awe of how he did it.

I wish I enjoyed wine because the cul-de-sac crew on Cougar Town make it look so good but I don't, and in the last few months I've been trying to avoid using food as any sort of coping mechanism as that leads to me digging through my closet to find my fat pants. 
Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
Being 41 now, 18 seems like a LONG time ago. My mother's death from breast cancer when I was 23 was something I never would have predicted when I was 18 and could have never dreamed the impact it would have on my life; not a day goes by I don't think of her and how much she would have loved my kids and them her, how close she and Tina would have been, and on a very base level how great it would be to have another local - and FREE - babysitter. As much as any single event in my life it has shaped who I am and how I view the world; even when I fail, I still try to remember what really matters in life is the connections we make with each other and I can't let a deal gone south at work throw me off for more than a moment or two. If you had told me at 18 that one of the jobs the 41 year old me would have would be writing about television I'd have been over the moon, that's for sure. 

I knew I always wanted to be a Dad but I had no concept of the work, stress, exhaustion, and pure joy that went with the job. The 18 year old me had been in love but had no idea what the difference between those 18 year old-in-love emotions and the way it felt to find your lobster, and the truth is there is no way I could have grasped it since I still had 11 years of pain and heartache to go through before I met Tina, with those 11 years ensuring that once I met her I would never let her go. 

Relate to what Al is saying? Leave him some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at havingitallproject@gmail.com!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Post for #EqualPayDay

As I declared my theme for this year to be "more", it felt appropriate for me to write a quick post in honor of Equal Pay Day, which is today, and share a couple of items that caught my eye.

My friend from Hello Ladies has an article on The Huffington Post about some of the costs incurred by women that don't necessarily apply to men, including a "basic drug store face" and more expensive haircuts. Both of those facts apply to me. Yes, I buy almost all of my make up at CVS, except for the Clinque powder I've been buying since the age of 16 or so. And I put off my very infrequent haircuts partly because I'm cheap too - I'm actually finally getting one tomorrow after being annoyed by the length for about a month longer than I'd have liked. And then there's my new thing - getting my nails done. Since January, I've been getting them done about every two weeks. Hannah picked "Hot Rod Red" to the left there. It's definitely an indulgence in my mind, but one that a friend convinced me to allow myself. It's silly, but it does make me feel more pulled together, more like a "real grown up," to have my nails done. I could go without make up, cut my hair at home, definitely skip the nails...but I like those things. They make me happy. I'm sure there are costs men pay that I'm not acknowledging too...but it would be amazing if the Paycheck Fairness Act was passed and more women were paid the "median income disparity of more than $11,000 a year" they're due.

And since it's the movement that's not going out of style any time soon, of course "Lean In" has been mentioned in many articles today. My favorite was "Sheryl Sandberg Wants Me to Ask You For a Raise" which notes a few recent experiences where Sandberg's name was invoked in a salary negotiation. She notes in the book that women should say someone more senior encouraged they negotiate, and well, her book is providing the link for the more senior person to have said so. That article also led me to look into the Levo League's #ask4more Twitter campaign, and I plan to spend time exploring their site too. The idea of being paired with an online mentor - even anonymously so - is really interesting for those who might not have someone to mentor them locally, or have yet to find that type of connection. So if government support for these issues (like no consequences from discussing salary) still takes its time getting here, at least we can encourage each other to be asking for more in the meantime.

Maybe next year we can spend today observing "National Cherish an Antique Day" instead. Like the antique notion of women being paid less than men.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Having It All Project: Kimberly Hensle Lowrance

I was lucky to meet Kimberly when we attended last fall's Springboard Conference, where she enthusiastically introduced herself to me as soon as we got on the boat. I'm trying hard to convince her to come to BlogHer this summer so she can continue being my conference buddy. Here's how Kimberly is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
My life, in many ways, is a classic story: I’m married with two kids, and I live in the
suburbs. (Thankfully, no minivan!) My son is five and my daughter is three-and-a-half
(the half is very important). I work four-days-a-week as the managing director of an
educational nonprofit organization in Boston. I moved to a part-time schedule in 2008,
and having work flexibility has been a blessing for our family. It’s offered me a way to
parent the way I want to—involved, engaged, and proactive—and to cultivate my career
in a manner that fits my needs and personal goals.

I have been working, in some capacity, since I was 11, when I got my first babysitting
gig. Forward to today: the work-life balance struggle is so much more complex! My daily
struggles are those that many working parents with young children share: coordinating
day care pickup, making lunches, getting the kids to soccer practice and gymnastics,
reading the Magic Tree House books, and organizing play dates, while also responding
to time sensitive emails, jumping on a conference call, and meeting that critical deadline.

One of the reasons I have been able to keep my career as an important part of my life
is because I have benefited from great day care for my children. Knowing they are safe
and stimulated has given me space to continue contributing to the world outside of my
home. I appreciate that, and value the lessons it teaches my kids about the role of their
mother (and their father, of course). That being said, public school starts in September
for my son (cue the waterworks), and I am already aware that our carefully crafted
schedule will be upended by early release days and school closings for never-before-
celebrated holidays.

My ongoing dilemma is that I never seem to have enough time for, well, everything. It’s
been a challenging process to accept that my commitments may exceed the hours of the
day and the days of the week. I’ve realized that it’s all part of keeping my priorities at the
core of everything I do, and letting go of that which doesn’t fit it.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
1. Most importantly, I have a fabulous partner in life, my husband, Rob. He’s an involved
and hands-on parent, and he’s always been incredibly supportive of me and of my
career. We laugh a lot, too, which is a truly a gift. Everything is easier when you know
someone has your back.

2. I try to find time for me—for something outside of work and family responsibilities.
Whether that’s yoga class, which goes a long way toward keeping my stress in check,
or my blog, Red Shutters, where I have an outlet for my writing, carving out time for me
keeps the chaos at bay—or helps me to be more prepared for the chaos!

3. My tried and true strategy is the to do list (original, right?). I have an ongoing and
constantly updated to do list that covers family, house, and blog (I keep a separate list
at work). I love the satisfaction of crossing off the task when it’s complete; with two small
kids underfoot, it makes me feel like I’m in control!

4. I made a choice in January of this year to get up each weekday at 5 AM. I had
gotten into a bad habit of getting up when my kids awoke, instead of before them,
which resulted in hectic mornings full of stress. I wasn’t my best self with my kids in the
morning. Because I was always running late, I was impatient and frustrated when they
delayed getting their coats or shoes on or when they wanted to tell me one last story.
They deserved better. Now, by getting up earlier, I’m able to get showered and dressed
(and even manage to put on eye liner!), eat breakfast, and spend 30-45 minutes doing
whatever I need to do, including catching up email, working on that to do list, writing, or
reading. The result is that 5 AM isn’t so scary anymore, we’re arriving at school earlier
than before, and I’m more patient with my children.

5. My can’t-live-without strategy is communication. We have family meetings each
Sunday to talk about what’s going on and what’s coming up for us as a family. While
my daughter typically likes to use the time to discuss the latest adventure of her Care
Bear, the meetings are reinforcing (hopefully) the four of us as team and helping our kids
to know how important our needs are to one another. My husband and I also check in
daily and take time to plan out upcoming commitments and deadlines, so we’re on the
same page. And, I’m the one who asks him, every weekend, “what are your goals for the
weekend, honey?” It drives him nuts (he’s not nearly as Type A as me), but it’s a great
way to find out his expectations for our family time, so we can make sure we get to the
end of weekend, having a good balance with gotta-get-it-done items and fun.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
Two years ago, my mother became very ill and ended up in the hospital for more than
a month. It was a scary, stressful time, but I was at her bedside constantly, thanks to
support from family, friends, and my employer. My husband stepped in to become super
Dad while I coordinated my mom’s care and spent hours every day with her; my mother-
in-law helped with the kids; and family and friends from all over the country called, sent
letters and email, and prayed for her. Additionally, my colleagues covered for me when
I was out, and my director gave permission for me to work from my mom’s hospital
room. We made it through that time because of our network—and because of my mom’s
amazing health care providers—and it reinforced for me what a gift it is to be healthy and
how grateful I am for the people in my life.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it
wouldn't work for you?

What works best for me is staying true to our family goal of raising healthy, confident
children who are kind and have a positive impact on the world. If I keep this as our
guide, I know it’s OK to decline invitations and to make certain commitments over others.
Also, having watched my mom struggle these past few years with health problems, I am
better than I was—or at least I am trying—to keep focused on the truly important things:
the people I love.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected
it to be then?

At 18 years old, I was eager to move away from my small New Jersey town to the big
city of Boston for college. I don’t know if I could even conceive of what was ahead
for me. However, I do remember, at 23, interviewing for a job during graduate school
and being asked what issue about women in the workplace was of particular interest
to me (the question was relevant to the job). I said balance: how do women get it—
career, family, life—all done? Well, 17 years later, I’m still working on my answer to that

Relate to what Kimberly is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at havingitallproject@gmail.com!

Monday, April 1, 2013

More on "Leaning In"

 So I stayed up til half past midnight on Saturday night to finish "Leaning In." Yes, I know how to live it up on a Saturday night.

I really wanted to love it, and I did love a lot of it. I saw so much of my experience as a working woman reflected back to me. I saw the struggles and the highlights, both with Sandberg's experiences on the home front and at work. I practically nodded my head off in recognition of the truths there.

And I felt sad. I wanted to cry when I finished it. I thought that I was just tired, that I'd feel better in the morning, but it's been a few days since then and I'm not feeling much better. I'm sad because these situations just suck sometimes. It is *hard* being a working woman, and honestly, it's not that much easier to be a working man. If I've learned anything from The Having It All Project so far, it's that no one has it particularly easy managing all that they'd like to get out of life. And so I felt sad that it's not as simple as trusting my instincts and acting accordingly, that it's too complicated and that I can't just believe in good people to make the right decisions on my behalf.

I felt sad that I haven't encountered as many women as Sheryl Sandberg seems to in her career. For all of the male-domination of Silicon Valley, she had plenty of examples of women to draw upon, doing both the right and the wrong things. I don't interact with as many women in my role, especially within my own department, and even as a friend and I work to assemble a Lean In group of sorts for our own, neither of us seems to know that many women like me.

I felt sad that daycare is so expensive that it doesn't make financial sense for more women to work. I felt sad that daycare employees don't make very much money. I felt sad that "working mom" got redefined as "career-loving parent" when so many working friends aren't so in "love" with their particular careers. I felt sad that women had to be told that it's okay to feel a little dissatisfied and strive for something more despite how many choices are technically already open to us. And sad that I had to use the word "technically" in that last sentence.

I wanted to feel inspired, and I have to admit that I feel a bit defeated. The odds seem stacked higher than ever now. No wonder women haven't been able to achieve more, given all of the inherent biases we face. At 12:30 am on a Saturday night, it all seemed insurmountable.

But there's another angle I didn't consider in the still of the night. I don't really want to give up, and it's not really in my personality to just take things as they are. I'm not sure "leaning in" is the solution to everything, but it does shed light on a lot of important points. We do need more equality at home. We do need more people to realize that just because a woman is successful, it doesn't have to mean she's an aggressive bitch. And while it's not easy to talk about these changes, it's critical that we do so. I plan to keep discussing them here, and pushing the limits in my own career. Enough of the pity party. Who's with me?