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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Hook: A #BlogHer14 Recap

Reading at the LTYM Open Mic
Well, I'm back from my second time attending the annual BlogHer conference. I expressed some self-doubt in my last post, and I think it was good for me to get that out of the way, because by the time I got to San Jose, I'd managed to let go of a lot of it. I knew what I wanted to get out of my time there, and I made sure that I did get it.

And I had an absolute ball.

Now there are logistics issues involved in every conference, but just like I wouldn't slam the organizers of something I attended for work online, I'm not going to talk about those issues here. I'll be filling out the conference evaluation, and if you desperately need to know my thoughts, I'll share them in a non-public way. Whining doesn't look good on anyone.

That being said, I also feel like some of the conference organizers and BlogHer employees have become friends. They even have a nickname for me. I know how hard they worked and are still working now, and I respect them too much to be negative when the overall experience brought me so much joy.

So, here's what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to dedicate these few days to thinking about how to take my blogging to another level. I attended Pathfinder Day's business track (you can see the slides from the sessions online), and finally crafted an elevator pitch:
My name is Cheryl Stober, and welcome to Busy Since Birth. I focus on providing moments of "me too" connection and encouragement to fellow working parents, in all their capacities. My crazy-busy life has led me to say, "I'm having it all--at the exact same time."
I also realized that while the traditional paths to monetization may not be for me because of both my current job and my lack of passion for it, there may be other paths that I can pursue instead. So I'm making up a word: I want to "experience-ize" my blog. I'm hoping to find more opportunities for putting myself out there, whether it's writing for other outlets, or speaking, or podcasts, or video. I want to keep having new experiences because of this blog, and I think that I will. And if money happens to come along with it, all the better.

Which leads me to another aspect of this year's conference that I appreciated: in my opinion, the Expo floor experience was more manageable and the swag wasn't a reason to attend. Last year I felt really silly not trying to get more free stuff, and this year, it felt like less of a big deal. Sure, it's fun to learn about new products and see what might be an interesting new addition to your life, but I didn't feel pressured to participate or chase down party invitations, and that was a relief.

Now I read a lot of blogs. After last year's conference, I added even more to my blog reader. Then LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER added a whole new crew of people for me to follow. So I wasn't shy when I had the chance to approach bloggers I knew and admired, and enjoyed connecting with so many people. It's not like I'm in the same room with them every day, and so I made the most of every opportunity to chat. And taking those opportunities meant I had a lot of really meaningful conversations too. As it was BlogHer's 10th anniversary, there was a lot of discussion of where blogs have been and where they're going, and especially discussions on the impact we can have while handling difficult issues of race, gender, feminism, sexism, frankly, all varieties of activism. Those discussions aren't easy to have, but I felt BlogHer created a safe space where we could have them, so long as you participated with care and understanding. Every meal, every break, and even the late night hours in my hotel room with my roommates, was an opportunity for a deep connection to be made, and I savored them all.

Above all else, I was beyond thrilled to have my "found my tribe." This is something that is beaten to death in the blogging community, to find those people who get you, and yet now that it's really happened for me, I get it. There are lots of other people who I had fun with this weekend, but a huge thank you to Kimberly, Phyllis, Danielle, Lisa and Melissa.


And that right there? That's the hook. Yes, I'm going to quote Blues Traveler and say that it's the hook that brings you back, and those people and many more are the reason I'd want to keep attending BlogHer conferences. Because I laughed harder than I have in ages, cried real tears of emotion, had someone's back, challenged my perceptions, put myself out there and danced like a fool. There's even video to prove it, if you dig hard enough.

Other highlights? Getting my hair stroked by the LTYM New Cities Mentor. Hugging one of the BlogHer founders. Being called the wrong name by the founder of LTYM. :) Reading at the LTYM open mic and promoting the heck out of the show. The 10x10 presentations. Getting hand massages. Seeing Phyllis read at Voices of the Year. The writing lab I attended. The Mrs. Band and their "I'm Enough" campaign (seriously, go watch it). Dinner with bloggers I've long admired. The ridiculously awesome "bitch you can hug" Kara Swisher. Hearing about creating your own personal Board of Directors to advise you in life. Kerry Washington's selfie. Cheese cake instead of cheese steak. It's tricky.

I'm really, really glad I got to go. Thanks to everyone at BlogHer that made it all possible. Hoping to get hooked again next year.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Most People

I'm leaving for BlogHer14 tomorrow, and of course it's making me reflect on where I've been and what I've done since leaving last year's event. A few weeks before I went last year, I wrote this, hoping the conference would rejuvenate me and help me find my place:

"There are so many voices that need to be heard, voices that are telling tales of, well, everything I'm not. Tales of drunkenness and sobriety; abuse and wonderment; health and illness; infertility and multiple births; special needs parenting and single parenting; poverty and luxury; exercise fanatics and overweight acceptance; stylishness and technological savvy; crafters and foodies; meditation and impulsiveness; swearing and over-sharing; religion and politics. Then we all shout through our megaphones of choice, walking the line between excess promotion and praying someone will read it.
And then there's me. I don't neatly fit into any of those categories, and it makes it hard to find my tribe, both of other bloggers and of readers. ... I have to admit there are times that I feel like my voice is really unnecessary."

I still love writing here. I think I've written some really good pieces in this past year. Good things have happened for me, like appearing on Motherlode, completing 50 interviews for The Having It All Project, and producing LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER.

But the sad truth is that fewer people are reading Busy Since Birth than ever.

---

Marc heard the song "Most People" first, by a band called Dawes. "Most people don't talk enough about how lucky they are." The lyric, one of many great ones in the song, has been stuck in my head lately. I know I'm lucky. I hope I say it often enough.

---

How do you acknowledge the competing feelings? That you're one of too many voices longing to be heard, and yet being happy with all that you have? That much can be accomplished while little can be gained?

I really want to have fun over the next few days, but I also plan to work hard. I want to try to figure out what it is I'm missing, and what I want to do next.  And if you're reading this and have any ideas for me, I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Working Motherhood: Podcast Edition

I had the fabulous opportunity to be part of Dr. Portia Jackson's daily podcast, Working Motherhood. It's probably the closest I'll get to being interviewed by Katie Couric or Oprah, and I have to admit, it was a lot of fun. I shared some of what my day to day life looks like, a challenge and a triumph, anda few resources I've enjoyed as a working mom.

I've never done a podcast before, and I probably over-prepared for the interview, but Portia still managed to squeeze in a few questions along the way that I hadn't anticipated. And then she titled my podcast as "Anticipating Needs," and I had a bit of a laugh over that.

You can read the show notes over at WorkingMotherhood.com, where you can also listen to the podcast, or download it for your commute over on iTunes or Stitcher.

And if you'd like to participate in the Working Motherhood podcast, reach out to me and I'll connect you, or you can nominate yourself too!

I hope you'll let me know if you listen!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I Wasn't an Ugly Crier! (LTYM Videos are here!)


I desperately wanted to see the videos, but I also didn't want to look. It was the last part of the LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER experience for 2014, seeing all of the videos after they'd been uploaded to YouTube. And for the last few months since our show, I was pretty sure that my video would be one big ugly cry.

I'd never cried reading my piece before. In all of our rehearsals, I'd been so focused on the rest of the cast, wanting to make sure they felt comfortable and supported and that the show ran like it should, that I didn't give much thought to my own piece. Unlike my favorite pieces that come together in one lightning strike of frantic writing, this piece evolved over time. I knew it was good enough, but I wasn't completely in love with it. So crying that day came as a bit of a shock. But reading it and seeing my mother crying in the front row made me start to cry, which then made Hannah start to cry, and OMG I'm sure I looked horrifying.

Except I don't. I get choked up, but there are no crocodile tears. I'm not unintelligible. It's actually okay.



PHEW.

I'm so thrilled to share the entire production with you all. You can watch it from start to finish by using this playlist. I promise they're all well worth your time.

One of the best parts of LTYM being a nationwide phenomenon is that blogger friends of mine from other cities also performed, and I get to see them too. Here are Gina (North Jersey), Lea (Chicago), Kelli (Portland) and Sarah (Austin). Their pieces are all like nothing in our show, again proving the range of motherhood experiences and how much these stories are worth sharing.









Thanks to LTYM video sponsor CollegeSavingsChillout.com by T. Rowe Price!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Same Team: Breaking a Cycle of Hate

"Do you want to know what team I'm on?" he asks in between bites of chicken, eyes shining at me from across the table.

"Of course, buddy," I reply, not really knowing what he means. There is no preface to this question, though we'd been discussing his day at camp earlier. They had been learning about constellations. The instructor had the same favorite constellation that Max and I love, Orion's Belt. It was something we all had in common, him, and me, and the teacher I'll probably never meet.

"I'm team Germany," he tells me, "because my friend is from Germany."

"Oh, the World Cup," I say, and he nods. The conversation ends there, at least out loud. I don't know anything about the World Cup really, only what I've gleaned from reactions posted to my Twitter stream. I have nothing more to add on the sporting matter.

Germany, however, I could go on. And I almost do go on, instinctually ready with a quip or a put down. But I recognize the name of his friend, a lovely little girl that he met in kindergarten, and I stop myself. I make a conscious decision not to say something hateful, and with that choice, I feel the weight of previous generations on my shoulders.

My Grandpa Max, and my questioning son Max’s namesake, was a survivor of the Holocaust. My grandmother, who died before I was born, was a survivor too. That simple fact has threads that are so deeply woven into the path of my life that it’s hard to name a single major decision where its influence can’t be found. They aren’t threads, actually, more like tentacles with suction cups that grasp on so tightly it can make it hard to breathe sometimes. I do not take the freedoms I have today lightly. I know what my grandfather lost, what the grandmother I never got to know lost, and I very clearly feel the responsibility of honoring all of that as I raise my children, these fourth generation survivors of the Holocaust.

Part of that responsibility, which was deeply ingrained on this third generation survivor, was that Jewish people do not like Germany. We don’t buy German cars, don’t shop in German stores, don’t make German friends. We don’t trust Germany, and while I can’t be certain it was ever said outright to me, I internalized that I should hate Germany. The idea never sat that well with me though. I remember thinking as an older kid, after hearing these arguments, “but how can I hate what I’ve never seen?” Then I studied the Holocaust more, and while I never truly achieved a level of hate, I could at least empathize with the message. So when I heard that Germany was going to the World Cup finals, well, it was another reason for me to have less interest in watching.

My children go to public school here in Massachusetts, and the level of diversity in their classrooms is extremely high. Many kids grow up speaking another language at home, and their class lists read like a visiting delegation from the United Nations. Our state is at the forefront of embracing gay marriage, and I’ve taught my children that families can be formed in as many different combinations that can be created. We’ve discussed differences of religious opinion for years, frankly as soon as Santa Claus entered their consciousness. In every careful discussion, it’s been clear to my children that we are all human beings who deserve to be respected and cherished regardless of what we might look like, where we come from, or who we love. Knowing all that, how can I, now, say anything disparaging about Germany?

I can’t, and I don’t.

Children aren’t wired to see the world and its inhabitants in the context of their prior crimes. Without that knowledge, children don’t look for the things that divide us, they look for the things that unite us. They look for the favorite constellations. They look to the teacher who teaches a class of kindergartners, some just learning English, to sing along to the same song.

Tonight, the discussion ended quite simply. “I’m on the same team as my friend,” he said. As he should be.

Monday, July 7, 2014

General Busy-ness: July 2014

Just like I predicted in my post on June and the fact that it was trying to kill me, life screeched to an abrupt halt on June 30. Max started day camp, Hannah's at overnight camp, and things slowed at work as people expected a quiet holiday week. This week is the least populated my calendar has been for longer than I can remember, and while June was a bit too much, this nothing much of a July isn't my taste either.

I've been doing some writing every day, only it's in the form of emails and letters to Hannah at camp. Sometimes it's twice a day if I use both mediums, and that is a lot of writing when you really don't have a lot going on. But I want her to get mail, so I make the effort, and today I was rewarded for that when camp posted a photo where I can see her reading one of my letters with a huge, unscripted smile on her face. Total Mom win.


Max has been enjoying the extra attention at home, though he misses Hannah too. We took him to the zoo this past weekend, and let him navigate with the map and climb all the structures he wanted. He fed a goat in the petting zoo, and actually wanted to put his face in the photo opp things with cut outs for your face. He's loving camp and happy to be with some school friends there.

I got meet a lovely little baby girl this weekend, too. Julie, Mike and Maya are going to be living in Boston again soon, and I'm so happy to have my best friend back in the area. I've missed just getting to hang out with Julie, and having them all as a more frequent presence in our lives again is going to be really wonderful. Especially wonderful since it now includes that sweet baby too.

The videos from all 32 performances of LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER are going to be posted online very soon, and I'll link to mine from here as well. I'm excited to get to re-live our show, even if I'm going to be doing some choking up in my own video, as I cried while reading my piece. I'm really excited to see friends from other cities, and to watch the impact of the Boston show spread further as our cast gets to share their videos. It's going to be awesome.

And BlogHer 2014 is just over two weeks away now, so I'm doing a certain measure of freaking out over that. I'm very excited to be going to the conference again, this time in San Jose, and I have a few goals in mind as I've already been scrutinizing the agenda. I'm excited to see lots of LTYM people from around the country, as well as other friends from last year's conference. I can't wait to room with Phyllis and Kimberly, and to see if we really do track down a mechanical bull. And, being me, I've tried to organize a pre-conference dinner with other Boston locals. But the freaking out is over how I can't really believe that it's been an entire year since the last conference. I came away last year feeling so motivated and thinking I'd grow the blog so much before attending again this year. And the truth is, things haven't grown much and have probably stagnated quite a bit. So I'm a bit disappointed by that, but hoping that BlogHer will help re-energize me and maybe give me some strategies for getting things done in this next year.

So, that's all the news from here. There's a summer storm rolling in, so I'd better get this posted and get off the computer. How are you?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Requiem for Blanket

First photo session with Blanket. Max was two days old. I think he was crying about his silly outfit.
The morning we were to drop off Hannah at overnight camp, I tweeted something to the effect of, "If in the betting pool, you had prior to 6:30 am as the time I'd start crying today, you're the winner." Because not only was Hannah on her way out the door, but Max also had to prove he was growing up and leaving me too. Well, not exactly, but it's a pretty major step considering the last six years (the entirety) of his life.

Just before 6:30 am, when I asked if he was bringing Blanket when he went to visit my in-laws, he not only said no, but he said we could throw Blanket away.

BLANKET.

Just a few days earlier, Blanket essentially lost his shine. The very best part of Blanket, his tag, had fallen off.

(And yes, Blanket is a "he" who has been anthropomorphized in excruciating detail over the years. Blanket has lived quite a life.)

So when the tag, or "deedee" as Max has called it since the age of two, finally succumbed to years of being rubbed between Max's thumb and fingers and fell off, well, that was it. The end of the affair.

I can't throw him away, so I washed him one last time (he was the nap bag blanket!), and tucked him away in a closet. In all honesty, I loved that Blanket almost as much as Max did, because my son loved him. If he'd gotten lost along the way, I would have moved heaven and earth to find him again.

Max hasn't looked back since that morning. In my mind, I imagine Blanket is a bit sad, missing Max. In some of Blanket's many adventures, he worked in a big office tower, "doing numbers" but always coming home at the end of the day. Blanket sometimes sounded a bit like me.

Thank you, Blanket, for everything.