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Friday, May 31, 2013

The Having It All Project: Emma Samuels

Emma made her way here through my friend Nanette, my favorite connector. Got a friend who inspires you with all they accomplish? Please send them my way! Here's how Emma is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I am lucky in that I have a very busy and full life. I am a mom to three little boys, a registered dietitian, a philanthropist, and serial volunteer. I am also a wife, daughter, room parent, yoga fanatic, tennis lover, cook, and entrepreneur.  People constantly ask me "how do you do all of this?!" My answer is always the same. "I just do." I am passionate about many things, from cooking dinner for my boys to writing a weight loss curriculum, and sometimes make things work even though it can throw me, or my family, off balance for a while. 

Years ago, when I changed careers and transitioned out of marketing and into the field of nutrition, I decided to grow my family life while also pursuing my career. I watched some friends wait to have kids, or others prioritize family over careers. I wanted to do both at the same time. As a result I entered graduate school engaged to be married, and graduated four years later married and with a one year old. While I never questioned my ability to make all this work, finding balance in my busy life was, and continues to be, a challenge. Especially since, for me, slowing down isn't an option.  

While everyone is busy (or at least everyone that I hang around with), I never complain or apologize for all that I choose to juggle in my life.  I love everything I choose to do and feel as though I am in the right place in my life today, which gives me a calming sense of purpose. I am constantly learning, growing, and thinking about how to improve myself. I embrace each day as a new adventure and a fresh opportunity to make it better than the day before. I believe that anything is possible, and that’s a really exciting and beautiful thing.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
1. My mantra for overwhelming moments is this: create space. I remind myself to “create space” and time between the chaos or stress and my (usually) charged reaction. While challenging for me to do in the moment, when I am able to create space I better address and handle intense moments. This valuable technique is true for parenting, marriage, work, traffic, bad days, you name it.  At a parents’ meeting at my son's school, I learned that students may press the "pause" button of a pretend remote control, to slow down an interaction or heated conversation. This allows them to pause, breathe, and then ask a question as needed. To create space. In my life, when I slow down a situation, I am able to recognize my feelings at that moment and then choose to respond, rather than to react.    

2. Exercise. Regular exercise for me is like an good friend who permits me to let off steam, keeping me mentally and emotionally organized. I exercise anywhere from 4-6 days a week, a mixture of hot power vinyasa yoga and basic gym efforts (elliptical and push ups). Keeping my body active gives me energy and allows me to focus. Through yoga, I can actually turn my brain off from the many to-dos, errands, and important life details for a little while. This is intensely invigorating and transformative, while also being an amazing work out. 

3. Friends and family. I'm not an island! I am fortunate to have many trusted people around me who can act as my sounding board when necessary. So when life gets crazy, I can benefit from, and appreciate, their insight and a different perspective. When I verbalize a problem to someone who knows me well, I gain comfort, clarity and support that helps me get back on track.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
Which time?!  I have had MANY moments when it felt like the walls were crashing down. Recently, I had a stressful work situation where I didn't know what to do or how to handle myself. I realized that not having clarity about, or control over, the outcome was very scary for me. I am usually the optimistic one who likes to weed through options for success, and here I was feeling totally stuck. I followed my own path of creating space, exercising, and calling up my close friends and family. And while in the moment I felt the pain of the situation, I never lost sight of who I was and what was important in my life. Even today, it is not the work that I do, but rather the person that I am that matters most, and the people with whom I share my time. It was powerful to realize that even when I was feeling stuck at work, I was not stuck as a person. I learned that I always have choices to make, am never a victim, and always have the ability to move forward.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
There is no one specific role model that I have, but I will say that I am proud that I surround myself with people who inspire me and help me grow as an individual. Since I am a very visual person, I need to see and hear how others achieve balance in their life, before I ultimately adopt their tips and techniques. I also gravitate to calm and confident individuals, as they impress me tremendously. Being calm is not my forte.  So I appreciate the natural talents of someone who can be effective and remain calm in challenging situations.  

(Sadly) I have learned to avoid caffeine, as I found myself greatly affected by the ups and downs of that drug. I also try and avoid situations that are highly disorganized, since they seem to wind me up like a top, even without caffeine. Lastly, I avoid situations where I do not have permission to tap into my creative energy and spirit. That energy is what excites me and is a key part of MY balance.  

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then? 
As an 18 year old, I had blind ambition to do and be everything. In that regard I have not changed too much!  I did, however lack focus, discipline, and confidence. At 18 I could have gone in ANY direction, such as my passions for dance, choreography and theater. Yet I was so unsure of myself, I'm surprised I made it out of high school alive. Perhaps my boundless excitement and energy served me well, as life always felt enormous and new, even as I worried about failing.   
Through the years I have had a lot of learning to do. Staying focused is still challenging for me, which I did not necessarily expect would still be the case. Still, I now understand myself and my strengths and weaknesses better than I did then. I am better equipped to slow down and discern between something that is exciting in the abstract versus something worthy of my actual expertise, energy and time. I am still me, just a lot smarter, more confident, and a heck of a lot happier.   

Relate to what Emma 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!


photo credit 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Guns and a Subtle Change

After reading my friend Kimberly's post on kids and toy guns today, I wanted to share a recent realization I'd had about guns and my own behavior.

I don't often get political in this space, but I'm decidedly anti-gun. I just don't get it. I'd never go hunting, I have no desire to shoot a gun at a clay pigeon, I can't think of a single aspect of it that appeals to me. I know that's not the stance that everyone else takes, but it's mine. It's not an opinion I've come to just recently, but a long-held belief.

And yet, I've never taken it all that seriously. So yes, my kids have had toys that they've used as guns - most recently a bubble-blowing gun - but mostly because I've seen Max turn many things into weapons from a very early age. They've never had a toy that looked like a real gun, though I expect Nerf-related items will be in Max's future. He's played shooting video games at Chuck E. Cheese. But I think any illusions I'd had of control over the gun/toy issue were lost when Hannah was three, and a preschool friend obsessed with all things army came to school and said he was going to shoot her. Yes, the classmate was disciplined, as much as any three year old is disciplined, on the matter, and it never happened again, but the one incident was enough for me to realize that I'd never completely shield my children from talks of guns and violence.

But this past year has been a lot. I don't need to remind you of all the recent headlines, but the list of heinous acts including guns is long. I'm feeling a bit more fragile and less in control than I'd like to be, especially around gun violence. And so there's one small change that I can make, that does improve how I feel about things: I'm no longer buying music where gun use is overtly mentioned, and in some ways, glamorized.

I noticed it when I was really turned off by the song "Red Hands" by Walk Off The Earth. It's the type of song I love - very catchy, a duet, great vocals and instrumentals. But the chorus repeats the lines "that gun is loaded, but it's not in my hand" over and over, in this fun, singalong way that I normally love...and it made me feel sick. Marc pointed out that a year or so ago, Foster The People's hit "Pumped Up Kicks" had me singing along to (and buying) "You better run, better run, outrun my gun." However, all of the events since then, particularly the one so close to home, have made me realize that no longer purchasing songs with lyrics like these is the right thing for me.

Will the band miss my $1.29? Probably not. But the kids and I love singing along to the radio together on the way home from school. And while I'll probably still squirm as they sing something by Katy Perry, I'll feel a little better knowing that I'm not singing along brightly to something that I can't stand behind.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Working (Mom) Moments: The Hallway

I can still picture the hallway, as nondescript as it was. Hannah's first daycare was family-based, in an apartment in a nice building a few blocks over from where we lived. The hallway was just beige walls, carpeted floor, lots of other apartments to pass along the way. When the daycare owners moved to another apartment about a year later, the hallway got even longer as we walked to our new destination.

I'd fretted over that first major decision we made in selecting daycare. I remember looking up different places online, desperately wishing I had more information, clinging to the hope that our instincts would be good enough. We ultimately visited three places. The first had one small room in her apartment where the kids would spend the majority of their time, and a long contract that requested more vacation time than Marc and I had. The third seemed okay, but that the kids might not be getting much attention there. But the second place was warm and loving - almost all of the apartment had been turned over to the business of childcare. The whole family was involved. Hannah thrived there, staying for the first two years of her life, making her first friends. It ended up being Max's first daycare too.

Though we have been very fortunate to have such great daycare experiences for our kids, no matter how great it was, I was still terrible at drop off. Most of the time, dropping off was Marc's job, but when it was mine, I was never happy about it. Neither kid has ever had an especially difficult time with saying goodbye - they've always acclimated quickly, sometimes heading off to play a little too eagerly, leaving me in the dust. I've never questioned that they would be well cared for during our time apart. And I knew what the experts said to do: keep it brief, a quick hug and an "I'll see you later, kiddo." So that's what I would do.

But that moment after I was out of their sight, the single second when I feel like I actively decide to go to work and leave them behind, well, it hits me smack in the heart. Even now, the kids are so big, and yet when I dropped them off on a recent weekday, I felt the old lump form in my throat. I'm not good at leaving them, but I know that leaving them, both their experiences at school and mine at work, is good for us.

Yet I can still remember the feeling of that hallway, the carpet underneath my knees, when I slid down the wall overcome with grief over leaving one year old Hannah all those years ago. A random day that I'd dropped her off - I can't remember the circumstances for why - and I rounded the corner out of her sight and cried.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Having It All Project: Lyette Mercier

I've only met Lyette, who I know better as Daisy Razor, through Twitter, but I've corresponded with her plenty there. It's kind of funny reading some of this as a complete story now, as I remember reading the tweets as it happened in real time! Be sure to check her blog for awesome items on sale each Friday. Here's how Lyette is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique
I am a married freelance writer and stay-at-home mother to a 3-year-old daughter. The only out of the ordinary thing I can think of about us is that our daughter, Genevieve, was diagnosed with Celiac disease when she was 23-months-old and is gluten-free. She stopped gaining weight when she was about a year-and-a-half-old and regularly threw up or had diarrhea after eating for about a month before her diagnosis. It was completely terrifying to know there was something wrong with her and have no idea what it was or how to fix it.

I remember putting her in the bath after she’d thrown up one day and crying my eyes out as I cleaned her off, because she was sick and her ribs were showing and I was utterly helpless to do anything about it. My husband and I both struggle with anxiety, and we actually came to an agreement that only one of us was allowed to freak out about it at a time and the other one would be the strong one, which worked pretty well, as silly as it might sound.

Her diagnosis was a massive relief. People ask me if it’s difficult to have a gluten-free child, but, for me at least, any difficulties are overridden by seeing my strong, healthy girl running around. (All right: I really miss bread sometimes.) We also got lucky that she was diagnosed so early, so she doesn’t remember/miss anything she can’t have now.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
I don’t feel qualified to answer this! I am extremely lucky that I get to work from home and have a healthy, (generally) low-maintenance kid. Plus, my in-laws live 15-minutes from us and will literally come over and take Genevieve for the day when my husband and I have had a rough week. We are insanely, stupidly lucky.

Which is not to say I don’t look at her occasionally and wonder if maybe she’s possessed by a demon. I work really hard not to engage emotionally when she’s trying to get a rise out of me, and I walk away until I can calm down when she gets to me. Not because I’m opposed to yelling really, but because it gives me a headache and she just thinks it’s hilarious. I also try to think of things from her point of view, and since I was once also a demon child, I can sometimes outmaneuver her.

But I think the best tip I got came from my mother. I complained to her once about the overwhelming amount of contradictory parenting ideas and philosophies and advice, and she said, “Well then just decide what you want to do and go find the advice that agrees with you.”

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
Gen got a nasty stomach bug in January. She and I were in Colorado, visiting a friend with a 4-month-old baby. My husband was back in Boston. I had to change our plane tickets, do all our laundry, bleach bomb everything she’d touched in the past day, and comfort her as she puked every 45 minutes. She was actively sick from 1:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. and we left for the airport at 7 p.m. for an 11:30 flight. At that point, I was mostly worried that I would get sick too before we got on the plane, but the universe had one more curveball for us.

Between Colorado Springs and Denver, we got stuck in a whiteout snow storm. That was terrifying enough in itself, but it also put us way, way behind on getting to the airport. I had managed not to panic all day, but I’d been awake for 18 hours at that point, and when my friend’s husband was like, “I think you need to start thinking about what you want to do if you miss the plane,” I was like, “I need to work on not passing out right now. I’ll deal with that later.”

I was so overwhelmed by everything that had gone wrong that I decided to just focus on one positive thought and completely block out everything else. That thought was “We are going to make this plane.” That was all I allowed myself to think until the panic receded, and it actually let me calm down enough to make peace with the idea of staying in a hotel overnight and getting a flight the next day.

Well, we made the flight that night. I strapped Gen into her seat, she fell asleep immediately, and I realized I’d gotten us through something I would have told you 100% guaranteed I could never do. The thing about parenthood that has consistently amazed me the most is how often it forces me to be a better, stronger person than I actually am.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
On days when I’m trying to write and make sure Gen doesn’t set anything on fire, I often think of my mother, who ran a sewing business out of our house. She’d have customers over and measure them while my sister and I ran around, then she’d stay up until midnight hemming and sewing. It’s a constant reminder that I’ve got it comparatively easy.

I try to avoid overscheduling Gen or signing us up for anything with a lot of noise or sensory stimuli, both because I’m worried she’ll be overwhelmed and because I know I’ll be overwhelmed. I think both of us staying calm and anxiety-free is worth missing out on a few preschool activities sometimes.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
When I was 18 my only goal in life was to get the hell out of my hometown, so by that metric, I have succeeded wildly. I wanted to be a journalist back then, and that didn’t work out (turns out I mostly hate talking to strangers!), but I’ve managed to write professionally, so past-me would be pleased about that at least.

I didn’t think I’d get married or have kids, for many reasons, the main one being, um, my personality. I didn’t think about having a family at all until I met my now-husband when I was 25. He hadn’t particularly thought he’d get married or have a family either, which was good in some ways, because we didn’t have preconceived ideas about a dream wedding or a big house or what we’d be like as parents. But on the other hand we were like, “Buying a house? How do you do that?” and “Oh, preschools have wait-lists? Crap.” We are really, really bad at domestic stuff. But we’re in it together and that makes it easier.

I think that’s the biggest difference, actually: that when I was younger I assumed I’d be going it alone in adulthood, but I actually ended up with a husband who’s just as weird as me, friends with whom I’ve been to hell and back, and a great community of mothers in my neighborhood. It’s all been a wonderfully pleasant surprise, honestly.

Relate to what Lyette 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, May 20, 2013

Working (Mom) Moment: Unexpected Dinner

My role at work is changing, and I've started attending more meeting with clients, instead of just doing all of the background preparation for the meetings. I'm very excited about this, but it's also made my schedule more complicated.

You may remember that I've been working 8-4 since mid-December so that I can pickup both kids from school in the evenings. But last week my client was scheduled to come in at 4 pm, and I had to hop on an international conference call with another client at 6 pm. So Marc and I flipped schedules, and I drove the kids to school that morning, thinking I wouldn't arrive home until 7:30 or 8 pm.

Just after I'd refreshed my make up and added high heels to my navy suit, the 4 o'clock meeting cancelled (pro tip for foreigners - the USA is a big country. Plan accordingly. :) ) I was sad to have upended my day unnecessarily, but thankfully we were able to reschedule for the following afternoon instead.

And me? I ended up taking the train home and indulging in dinner, alone, at the pub in my neighborhood. I sat at the bar and had a burger and, well, a moment to breathe before the next call. It wasn't how I expected the day to go, but it was really nice to have a moment to take care of myself. I made the 6 o'clock call, and by 6:30, I was able to call the work day done. I'm glad I seized the opportunity to do something nice just for me - it definitely made having to suit up again the next day easier to take.

Have a Working (Mom) Moment to share? Dads are welcome too. Email me at havingitallproject@gmail.com.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Customer is Always Right (Unless They're a Criminal)

Hey! Thanks those of you who have stopped by from Outlaw Mama's place. She's got quite a nice set up over there, doesn't she? I'm happy you've come by, and for that, I will reward you with another work story, but one with a slightly less-than-happy ending.

You may have read in my bio that I once worked as a bank teller for the now-defunct National City Bank, at their branch in Woodmere, Ohio in the summer of 1998. I was home for a few months between my sophomore and junior years of college, and my mom thought it was a good idea for me to move on from being a summer camp counselor.

(For the record, I was an excellent camp counselor. My group even won the camp color war that prior summer. My daughter Hannah's name was taken from my favorite camper those two summers. But I digress.)

I was pretty excited about being a bank teller, particularly after I sailed through my first week of orientation. Seeing as many of the other tellers were just learning how to use a mouse during our computer training sessions, while my typing skills had been well-honed in many hours of AOL chat rooms term papers, I was sure I could handle anything bank telling could throw at me. I learned how to quickly count money, and that the filing processes actually mirrored the accounting rules I'd studied as an Economics major. The only thing that worried me was the hour we'd spent on firearms identification, in case we were held up at gunpoint and needed to help the police find the bank robbers. I thought that was the worst possible thing I could encounter, and that the likelihood was so low, that I really didn't worry.

And I was right not worry about that - my bank was never held up while I was there - but there was *so* much that no one had ever warned me about. Like the morning when our supervisor, Doug, forgot to post the "all clear" sign in the window after his morning sweep of the premises, and we all feared that he was dead inside the vault. Or the afternoon when we weren't allowed to leave the bank (as my friend impatiently waited to drive me home) when someone's drawer was off by $500, and the guilty teller finally confessed hours later. Or the series of times I'd been check kited.

Per Wikipedia, check kiting is "commonly defined as intentionally writing a check for a value greater than the account balance from an account in one bank, then writing a check from another account in another bank, also with non-sufficient funds, with the second check serving to cover the non-existent funds from the first account." Got that? I certainly didn't. But one of my customers, who appeared to be a plumber, certainly did. He always had tons of checks, which made sense given his line of work, and I'm sure some of them were legitimate, but a few of them were not. He'd always ask for large sums of cash, and my fellow tellers and I could follow our protocols and give him the money without any knowledge of wrongdoing. The checks he brought in always covered the amounts he requested - it was just that the checks were written on fake accounts. Whoops.

I had no idea when Doug called me into his office, after he'd called in two other tellers, that any of this was happening. He interrogated me for over an hour, asking about every tiny detail of my interactions with the customer, who was smart enough not to have been to our branch in weeks. Then Doug finally explained what the heck had gone on for weeks over a large series of transactions, and that I wasn't in any trouble. There was no way I could have known. I still felt awful - part of me still does.

I learned so much that summer, but mostly I learned a lot about respect. Combined with my summers at camp, I learned that people can get pretty worked up about their children and their money. I learned how important it is to provide top-notch customer service whenever possible, and I think that has served me well as I've progressed through my career. Having been on that side of the equation, it also taught me to treat people in customer service roles with respect, too. Being in a service role and doing it well is not easy, and even with some of the bad experiences I had, I'm so glad that I got that critical training. And all these years later, I still think of the experience fondly every time I take out my own - legitimate - checkbook. 

image credit

The Having It All Project: Kristopher Denio

Today's guest poster, Kristopher Denio, made his way here through my dear friend Ana. She thought he might have an interesting perspective to offer, and I have to agree (just check out those feet practically jumping off your screen above - that's some perspective! ;) ). Do you have a friend to suggest to me? Share this post with them, and let's get that ball rolling. Here's how Kristopher is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I've enjoyed a life as a software engineer, teacher, animator, industrial pest control technician (we don't like to talk about that), and entrepreneur.  Two years and four months ago, the day our twins were born, I voluntarily quit my job to be a full-time, stay-at-home dad.  I qualify my position as "voluntary" to differentiate myself from the men profiled in the multitude of articles detailing the rise of Mr. Mom (I despise the term.  Darn you, Michael Keaton and your likable, everyman charm!) where you invariably find out that the fellow in question was out of work to begin with or his partner's salary was considerably greater than his--basically, that the decision to stay home just made sense.  Not to disparage those people or their choices.  The world could use more logic-based decision-making, and I applaud anyone who acts contrary to societal norms for the good of their family.  But I'd like to offer the theory that it's OK for a dad to want to stay home with his kids, even when it doesn't necessarily make the most sense.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
Laughing.  Crying.  Reminding myself that I'll look back on this period fondly.  Two fingers of bourbon after everyone is safely tucked in bed.  (OK, maybe three.)

I assume it's not much different with singletons--though I don't know, as my wife and I apparently reproduce geometrically--but chaos is unavoidable with twins.  It's best to just embrace it.  And if everyone comes out the other side healthy, happy, and with most digits intact, know you've done a good job.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
When I first volunteered to participate in this project, I wasn't sure what moment to share.  It sometimes feels like it all breaks down at least once a day.  But recently, I was afforded some perspective.

Two years with a single breadwinner takes its toll on family savings and available credit.  So, a few months ago, my wife and I decided that it was necessary for me to return to work.  Besides, the kids were outpacing me intellectually and could benefit from preschool.  I somehow found a job that seemed to be custom tailored to my unique background and weaseled my way into getting hired, the only concern being the hour commute, each way.  I'd dealt with long commutes before, so I figured it'd be fine.  I've never been more wrong in my entire life.  

I knew I'd be sad to leave the kids.  I didn't expect to be hiding in the bathroom, bawling like a child, on my first day of work.  I certainly didn't expect to be continuing that behavior three days into my new job.  The long commute had me leaving for work before our kids woke up and returning home shortly before they went to bed.  I went from spending every minute of every day with our children, to only getting an hour with them during their crankiest time of the day, and it was breaking my heart.  By the end of the first week, it was apparent I'd made a horrible mistake.  I informed my boss that for the sake of my family, and my sanity, I had to quit.

This was a gut wrenching decision.  I'd made a commitment to my new employer, and I take my commitments very seriously, but our kids will only want to follow dad around for so long before friends and school and life beyond our little family begin to steal their time and attention.  I refuse to miss it.  The cliche is that everything changes when you have children.  I'm still adjusting to my new priorities.

Luckily (and luck plays no small part in my life), my boss respected my priorities and my choice to honor them.  She quickly concocted a solution--for me to serve as an independent contractor, working from home--and championed it to her superiors.  And so, in the blink of an eye, the worst decision I'd ever made turned into an incredible opportunity that wouldn't have been available otherwise (did I mention luck?).

Do you have any balance role models?  Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
I have friends whom I respect, and I admire the choices they've made for their families, but everyone's situation, and their definition of what "having it all" means is so different, it would be very difficult to see anyone as a role model in that regard.

We try to avoid over-scheduling and over-planning.  The kids have promised us that nothing will ever go as planned ever again, so the more flexible we can be, the better.  Oh, and hour-long commutes are now off the list.

Think back to your 18th birthday.  How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
I'm not sure my life is all that different from what I expected.  I've never been one to plan the minute details of my life.  Instead, I prefer to lay out some broad strokes I'd like to see happen and play the rest by ear.  When I was 18, the broad strokes were: 1) I wanted to marry my girlfriend--we'd been dating since we were 15,  2) I wanted an interesting life full of adventure, 3) I wanted a motorcycle, and 4) when I eventually had kids, I wanted to stay at home with them.  All of those things happened, though the motorcycle was sold shortly after the kids were born.  So, there's that.

Relate to what Kristopher 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!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

My 10th Mother's Day

So it's Mother's Day, and this is in fact my 10th time celebrating this day as a mom. I think I've finally figured it out though, as today (well, really, this weekend) has been a really good balance of time.

On Friday night, I went to the third annual Pivot event, this time focusing on finding a personal style. Before I left, I took the picture above, as I was wearing both my first and my tenth Mother's Day presents. I bought that denim jacket back in 2004, on a much anticipated excursion to the mall with four month old Hannah. I vividly remember trying to figure out how to manage her needs while I tried to satisfy my own. I debated whether or not to buy the jacket - it's not quite perfect - but seeing as I'm still wearing it 10 years later, I guess it was the right choice. My gift this year is that colorful necklace above - I've decided that a new element to my "personal style" is to find simpler clothing to pair with gorgeous jewelry. Sounds like a good plan, right? So anyway, I got some time on my own on Friday.

Then last night, I got some time alone with Marc as we went to see "The Great Gatsby." When we were dating, we saw the Baz Luhrmann movie "Moulin Rouge," and our wedding song was taken from that, so I had a feeling we'd enjoy this one, and we did. It was the first time Max was totally fine with being left with a babysitter - usually I get a lot of tears and "no you stay home and be my babysitter!" It was nice to just go out without a complicated plan and or nagging guilt from Max.

This morning I was told to skip Zumba so that I could be treated to breakfast in bed, and it truly was a treat. My favorite bagel and cream cheese, iced coffee from Dunkin' Donuts, and Twizzlers. :) Hannah also made me a landyard bracelet in my favorite color, and brought home adorable projects from school. I expect more from Max tomorrow, since he was home sick on Friday. Max and I got to spend some quality time together this morning, and Hannah and I got our own version this afternoon. And now I've had time to write this, and that brings me so much joy too.

Mother's Day can be a spring season New Year's Eve - so much anticipation and expectation wrapped up in one day. You go out to eat and the restaurant is surprisingly uncooperative for kids when they marketed a Mother's Day brunch. Your kid gets pink eye. You miss your mom. You long for the children you don't have. You feel less-than-perfect. You feel under-appreciated too often during the rest of the year to enjoy the day.

I know how lucky I am to have had a good one this year. I am so grateful, that I honestly don't mind the dishes I'm about to do. I feel loved this year, and I really appreciate it.

Wishing a happy Mother's Day to moms in all their forms. I hope you feel appreciated too.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Having It All Project: Audrey Beerman

I met Audrey through Julie somewhere along the way...so this is probably the second participant to The Having It All Project that she didn't know she was leading me to back when we met in 1996. Audrey's a new mom figuring out how to balance all the different roles in her life - something many of us are balancing on this Mother's Day weekend. Happy Mother's Day to all of you. Here's how Audrey is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
Although Margaret Mead probably isn't to credit for this quotation, I giggle at "Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else." Lately I derive considerable comfort from that! I'm a daughter, a wife, a stay-at-home-mom, an aunt, a daughter-/ granddaughter-/ sister-/ niece-in-law, a Chief Marketing Officer, a sorority sister, a volunteer, a true friend, … so you know, I'm unique, just like each of us is unique! In stark contrast to my "past lives," though, I'm a member not the leader.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos? 
Nuts and bolts: My husband and I run our lives on a carefully curated suite of Google products (Gmail, Calendar, Drive), and I love Evernote too. Thanks to apps for eBay, Amazon Prime, and FreshDirect, I do 90%+ of our family's shopping from my phone. Near-debilitating OCD is a beautiful thing - if only it were contagious!

More philosophical: I attempt to avoid and / or eliminate as much chaos as possible. This may seem basic, but I'm not someone whose life is naturally drama-free, and thus it requires consistent, conscientious effort on my part. Sometimes this is as simple as saying "no" which should be easier than it is. Although I don't completely disregard social niceties and legitimate obligations, I do say no to lots of things "the old me" would've done begrudgingly and / or by incurring epic stress, ranging from joining committees to making weekend plans. Along those lines, I no longer waste time attempting to cultivate / repair / continue relationships with people who are not worthy; I don't have arrogant delusions of these individuals pining away for me, but I'm not interested in teaching anyone how to be a good friend.

Being a stay-at-home-mom is extremely weird for me; in the beginning, on some days, the only adults with whom I interacted were our doorman and our parking lot attendant. Now we go on more "adventures" including spontaneous outings and as a recovering Type A, giving up my routine was really challenging. To feel human, I make sure that each morning, I take a shower and get dressed, even if Ari and I are just spending the day rolling around on the playmat. Sometimes I have a sitter come for a few hours so I can be on my own, and I don't feel guilty about it, because I know I'm a better mom if I can have some "me" time too.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it. 
In November 2009, my then-boyfriend Hal asked my father for my hand in marriage. A few weeks later, my father was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, and given only a few months to live. I still do not fully understand how I survived the 117 days between hearing the prognosis and delivering his eulogy, but in that time, Hal proposed to me and we planned, then had, a beautiful wedding with the people we love most, and my dad was there to walk me down the aisle. To say "it all broke down" is a colossal understatement.

I got through it because I am blessed to have the best people on earth. My people - my friends who are my family - are the most loyal, thoughtful, generous people in the world. They are insane in their devotion and selflessness. This is what friendship is supposed to be, in my mind; my parents raised me this way and I pray that I live up to their standards. When Hal witnessed the outpouring of love and support, he understood me a lot better, and now he gets why my definition of family includes far more than people who are technically our relatives. "Having it all" means different things to different people, but I truly believe that having my people in my corner means I've got everything.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you? 
I've learned a lot from my own mistakes so I try to use "past me" to avoid making them again. Over the years I have been blessed to interact with many painfully efficient, impressive individuals and I've taken notes on their best practices and try to incorporate them into my everyday. For instance, about 15 years ago my rabbi, Loel Weiss, taught me that he attempts to avoid letting things pile up on his desk. If something is due in a week, for instance, and it's going to take five focused minutes to do, he gives it his attention immediately so he doesn't have to add it to his to-do list and think about it later - it gets done, and it gets done right, and it's done! It sounds simple but it has saved me a lot of stress. I also loved Lean In and agree that "Done is better than perfect" - and it doesn't mean settling, it means being realistic.

Since I'm still adjusting to my new role as mother, I try to avoid making too many rules for myself. Being flexible is becoming easier.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
When I was 18, I had two parents I thought would live forever, and two best friends who were like siblings to me. I assumed I'd be super-involved in the Jewish community forever and eventually make aliyah. While I've always wanted to be a mother, I didn't expect to be a stay-at-home parent. Since then, my dad died and those two best friends dumped me. Although I would love to visit Israel again, I have no plans to move there, and after an eight-year absence from the Jewish community, I am only now beginning to find my place in vibrant, Jewish life. Having earned three degrees, it is strange not to be employed outside the home.

Part of me cannot believe that any of this is really happening. I have a healthy, happy son who blows my mind and breaks my heart every single day. I have a compassionate, hilarious husband who I fall asleep next to, laughing!, every night. We live in a beautiful apartment and pay several thousand dollars below market which in New York City is probably a bigger accomplishment than the spouse or kid! I FaceTime with my mom every single day so she can see her grandson and we take long weekend field trips to visit her in my native Boston. As above, I am surrounded by the greatest people, for which I feel lucky all the time. And despite all this, sometimes I cry because I miss my dad so much. So, so much. Life is nothing like what I expected it to be, but I'm nothing like I expected to be, and although there is always room for improvement, I count my blessings and am genuinely grateful. As Asha Tyson wrote, “Your journey has molded you for the greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don't think that you've lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.”

Relate to what Audrey 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, May 6, 2013

A Wrap Up and a Plea

So unless you spent last week living under a rock, I was the Boston.com Moms Featured Parent Blogger. It was an interesting experiment for me. I hoped to gain some new readers here, and I did have my highest-ever traffic to the blog on the day my picture and links were up on the Boston.com homepage. It was challenging to answer all of the questions that the Boston Globe host asked me, as well as those of you who took the time to also post your questions (thank you friends!). I think I did a pretty good job reflecting my vision for this space and the types of things I like to write about, and on the whole it was a great experience.

The cons? Wow, I did not like seeing my face everywhere. It made me very self conscious, especially because the day I appeared on Boston.com I was home sick with an awful stomach bug. I also didn't like the pressure to have to write every day. There's a reason I'm not a daily blogger (well, multiple reasons, named Hannah, Max and MY JOB). I was able to write most of it in advance in the evenings before the posts came up, so I made it work, but I've never wanted additional deadlines on my writing, and it did cause some anxiety for me. But I'm glad I rose to the challenge, and the links to each of the daily forums are below.

Monday: Introduction
Tuesday: 20 Facts
Wednesday: My favorite post
Thursday: Questions from the community
Friday: Other favorite bloggers

And since I've been asked this a lot: not a single person from work said anything about seeing me on Boston.com. I have a hard time believing that no one noticed it, but no one has admitted it to me. That's fine by me - it's not like blogging is everyone's cup of tea - but there hasn't been a conflict between my blog and work so far because no one seems to care. And while I do occasionally attend to something blog-related at work, I also occasionally (okay, fairly often) attend to something work-related at home, so it all works out.

Now to the plea part of this post. For the past 18 weeks, I've tried to present a wide variety of viewpoints in The Having It All Project. Participants have been asked to write their post by me, or found their way to me by friends, but all are volunteers. Eighteen participants is by no means statistically significant (oops, my MBA is showing!), and cannot possibly represent the wide range of humans who are trying to "have it all." And A LOT of people hate those words, and would never consider writing about the topic. Indeed, many people have rejected my request to write too. Despite the fact that I make no claims of being perfect, I've twice received the criticism that a certain (differing) viewpoint hasn't been covered.

So here's the deal: if you think something is missing here, WRITE IT. Not today, not even tomorrow, but if you want a voice to be represented, I need you to help me do it. It can be anonymous - no pictures, no links, no identifying details at all. But I don't want your complaints about it. Please trust that I am promoting the heck out of this thing (again, within the confinements of Hannah, Max and MY JOB, plus the fact that I earn no money here), but if you see a niche not filled, help me fill it instead of complaining about it. I'm glad you're all invested in this blog, it really does mean the world to me, but my traffic here is so ridiculously low that I'm not willing to take the criticism from those who won't support me too. So thank you in advance for your help.

And for those of you who like what I'm doing, I really do appreciate it. Keep sharing what you like and what resonates with you. I really believe that some day, this could become something, even if I still don't know what that something is yet, and I am glad you're on this journey with me.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Having It All Project: Nanette Fridman

Nanette and her family moved to our area a couple of years ago, and I cannot begin to tell you what a gain it has been for Newton. Fundamentally, Nanette is a connector. She wants to know your entire life story within minutes of meeting you, and she just might know how to improve your life going forward. Here's how Nanette is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I have two amazing kids, a 6 year old daughter and a 10 year old son, and a wonderful husband. I started my own business six years ago providing strategic planning, training and coaching to nonprofit organizations (and the blog). Because my clients range in size, location and mission and each has various needs and projects, every single day is different which I absolutely love.

My path to getting to this point is interesting. After college, I worked as a grass-roots organizer in Washington, DC while getting my Master's in Public Policy at Georgetown and then continued on for a law degree. After graduation, I took a job at a large Boston law firm to be closer to my family. My son was born prematurely so I abruptly left my job at as corporate lawyer in 2003 and never returned.

After three years as a stay at home mom and full time unpaid volunteer, I was ready to go back to work. After much contemplation, interviewing many women about their work-life balance, and a lot of encouragement from my husband, I decided to switch gears and open my own consulting practice.
 
My schedule is somewhat unique. Basically, I work around my kids schedule except when I am traveling. On a typical day, I work from 6:00 am to 7:00 am, 8:30 am to 3 pm and then from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm. From 3:00 -8:00 pm, I am with my kids (unless I am on deadline to finish something or am squeezing in a conference call)! 
 
What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
Tip number one, be organized. Lists and folders are my friends.My lists are by time and date and by subject (and sometimes cross-referenced). I schedule and plan ahead everything that I possibly can. My friends joke that I am booking Saturday night dinners into 2014. My husband and I hold regular calendar meetings and invite each other to our evening and weekend meetings that impact our shared time via our electronic calendars. 
 
Tip number two, adopt rituals and routines as a family.We wake up basically at the same time every day. Clothes are laid out the night before. When my kids get home from school, backpacks go in the same place, homework folders come out and the kids unpack their lunch boxes and put them on the kitchen counter.  We have separate bags for karate, religious school, baseball etc. Each child is responsible (with help) for the checklist of items that they need in their activity bags. Bedtime rituals are very important both for the kids and us.  We aim for the same bedtime window of time every night. This allows me to time to respond to emails that come in during the late afternoon and early evening and time to work before I watch my escape tv or spend time with my husband.

There are three things that really help me cope with the chaos. The first is a great family and friends. Everything is better when you can talk about it, complain about it and most importantly, laugh about it with someone who loves you. The second is Shabbat. Every Friday night, we have a special dinner, usually with family or friends, marking the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. This really a chance for us to catch up with each other, enjoy a slower pace and relax. We all look forward to Friday night and sharing our "WOW of the Week". The third strategy is one that I just started this year and that is my Pilates practice. Deep breathing is fundamental to Pilates and remembering to breath deeply is helpful to handling the inevitable stress and chaos that comes from having two working parents with outside interests and hobbies, two active kids, community involvement and lots of friends and family around.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
A couple weeks ago we were going on vacation and our flight was very early. The car service was picking us up at 5 am. To save time in the morning, I decided to shower the kids the night before and to put them to sleep early and in their clothes for the next day. After a few hours of sleep, my daughter woke me up and she had gotten sick all over her bed and proceeded to vomit the rest of the night and morning (including in line to check in our luggage at the airport). Needless to say, I didn't sleep at all and instead did laundry and checked on my daughter the entire night. All my best efforts to plan didn't mean much. I actually took it in stride and did a lot of deep breathing. I was very grateful that it wasn't a serious illness (she was really a trooper and happy despite being sick) and as a reminder to myself that I can't control life! Things happen! Luckily it was a 12 hour bug and by the time we landed, my daughter was ready for lunch.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
I have a lot of friends whom I really admire for their work-life balance. Recently inspired by the high-profile dialogue on work-life balance by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg, we have formed a group that is meeting regularly to talk about these issues. Our primary goals are to support, encourage and learn from each other. Most of the women in the group are much better at delegating than I am in the personal sphere.
I have avoided several professional and personal opportunities because they would have required my delegating more childcare than I was comfortable with at the time. I am grateful to have had the choice and am trying to get more comfortable with delegating.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
Since I was a teenager, I was always drawn internationally. I expected to be a lawyer and involved in politics. My first email account was nan2012@aol.com because I thought that I better reserve that email address for my anticipated campaign. 2012 has come and gone, and I am currently a non-practicing lawyer. However, I haven't run for office - yet. My husband is originally from Mexico so I guess I fulfilled the international piece!  
 
When I was younger, I wanted a full life which to me meant exciting work, a loving husband and kids and a buzzing house! Be careful what you wish for! All joking aside, I feel that I have crafted a very full life that is busy by design, just the way I like it.


Relate to what Nanete 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!